Archived entries for General Interest

Changes afoot at Gathering Waters: New staff and a fond farewell

The new year will bring some changes to the faces of Gathering Waters. Read on for an update on GW staffing in 2015:

Sara DeKok, our long-time Associate Director and Member Relations Director will be moving on in January 2015 when she welcomes her second child and puts down roots in the Twin Cities.  She has been a great friend and inspiring leader to all of us here at Gathering Waters and after 12 years with the organization, she will certainly be missed.

We wish her and her family the very best and are happy, knowing she will find a great opportunity in Minnesota to continue her incredible contribution to the conservation movement.

GWC-Headshots-14 for web

We wish Sara DeKok a fond farewell.

Kristin Swedlund, whom we welcomed as our new Program Assistant in August, will take on a new role as Gathering Waters’ Development Coordinator upon Sara’s departure.  She has wealth of fundraising experience and is already proving to be a great asset to the land trust community.

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Kristin Swedlund has a wealth of fundraising experience and is a great asset.

And finally, we are eager to welcome a new Program Assistant in early January.  Interviews are currently taking place, so stay tuned for a new face at the office door and voice on the phone!

Land Trust Partners with City to Protect Water

Tall Pines Conservancy has partnered with the City of Oconomowoc on an innovative and exciting program (The Adaptive Management Program) to improve the water quality in their area. Together, they are reducing water pollution from urban and agricultural sources and enabling the City to reach compliance with the Department of Natural Resources waste-water and storm water permit requirements in a cost-effective manner.

Siltation after heavy rains in Mason Creek flowing into North Lake

Tall Pines Conservancy has partnered with the City of Oconomowoc to improve and maintain water quality.

The Adaptive Management Program aims to prevent pollutants from getting into the waterways through improved conservation practices including better leaf collection practices, rain gardens, porous pavement, retention ponds, residential fertilizer control, implementation of an aggressive street cleaning program, better storm water management practices and much more.

Lac La Belle at Dusk

Safer, healthier, more beautiful places to live, work and play.

All of this will mean improved water quality in the Oconomowoc River and Rock River area streams and lakes. It will mean enhanced aquatic and wildlife habitat, reduced aquatic weed growth and algal blooms in area lakes and waterways. This means safer, healthier, more beautiful places to live, work and play.

Pretty cool, right? We think so.

Want to know more about this project? Check out Tall Pines Conservancy’s Fall/Winter 2014 newsletter.

Lucky Stoughton

Dane County and the City of Stoughton now have a new, special place to make their own. As future development continues around this newly protected place, these 40-acres of untouched land will remain a true sanctuary and source of outdoor adventure for community members.

That’s right, Natural Heritage Land Trust (NHLT) recently purchased 40-acres of land that boasts over a mile of frontage on the Yahara River and is a popular stopover for migrating waterfowl (click for a map). NHLT is donating the land to the City of Stoughton to be enjoyed as a conservancy park where the public will have permanent access to the river. The city’s plans for the property include an extension of the bike trail that starts in the heart of the city and presently ends in Viking County Park, just south of the acquired property.

Yahara Waterway

Yahara Waterway by Mario Quintana

This community asset was made possible through funding provided by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, the Dane County Conservation Fund, and Natural Heritage Land Trust members. The previous landowner’s willingness to sell the land to Natural Heritage Land Trust for less than its fair market value played an equally vital role.

Enjoy, Stoughton!

Muir Family Farm Protected for Years to Come

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown,
for going out, I found, was really going in.” -John Muir

The Natural Heritage Land Trust recently announced an exciting development in the preservation of the original John Muir family farm - the purchase of nearly 200 acres in Marquette County between Montello and Portage, WI. The property will be open to the public for hiking, hunting, cross-country skiing, fishing, trapping, and bird-watching - continuing John Muir’s legacy of preserving natural spaces for all people to explore, discover, and enjoy.

John Muir, a Scottish-American naturalist and author, founded the Sierra Club and is widely regarded as the father of our National Park System. His family emigrated from Scotland in 1849 and started a farm near Portage, WI. The recent property acquisition includes 38 acres of the original 320-acre farm and is part of a 1,400-acre protected landscape, including the John Muir Memorial Park/Muir Park State Natural Area and the Fox River National Wildlife Refuge. A map of the new and existing protected lands can be found here.

Photo Credit:

“Oh, that glorious Wisconsin wilderness!” -John Muir

Muir’s passion for preserving natural spaces echoes through Wisconsin’s conservation community. The permanent preservation of this beautiful natural space and piece of Wisconsin’s history would not have been possible without the work of the National Heritage Land Trust in partnership with the landowner and funding from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, USFWS Fox River/Green Bay Natural Resource Trustee Council, The Conservation Fund, Northeast Wisconsin Land Trust, Wisconsin Land Fund of the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation, Wisconsin Friends of John Muir, and John Muir Chapter of the Sierra Club.

To learn more about this land acquisition or the Muir family legacy, please contact National Heritage Land Trust.

Rosholt’s Treasure Protected by North Central Conservancy Trust

Both Jim Benn and Louise Benn Barnard have fond childhood memories of living in Rosholt and know how much the area meant to their father, Dr. Vernard Benn.

Jim Benn said his father, who has since passed away, loved living and working in the area since the day he moved to Rosholt in 1937. Dr. Benn served in the area for 49 years, retiring in 1985, and delivered more than 5,000 babies.

“He treated the town as his office,” Jim Benn said. “He was a hunter and fisherman, and was known for playing hooky whenever he could to go out and spend time in the woods.”

Louise Benn Barnard said she always remembers hiking from their home to the land on Sunday afternoons, and how much she enjoyed playing there as a child.

“We’re thrilled to give this land to these people, because they will enjoy those little things as much as we did.” (Louise Benn Bernard)

These sentiments led the brother and sister, who now live in Massachusetts and California, respectively, to decide the 35 acres their family owned just behind the Rosholt School District should be enjoyed by students and the community.

“It was truly magical, and I knew when I moved I’d always miss Wisconsin,” said Benn Barnard. “We’re thrilled to give this land to these people, because they will enjoy those little things as much as we did.”

After receiving the property, now known as the Vernard A. Benn Conservancy, the school district contacted their local land trust, North Central Conservancy Trust (NCCT) to ensure that it would remain protected, forever. Together, the school district and NCCT designed an easement, which lays out the terms through which the land will be protected.

The property includes much of the Rosholt Millpond and has long been maintained as a nature conservancy, with a trail system designed and cared for by students of the district, and now it is guaranteed to remain this way, benefiting the health and well being of the community for generations to come.  As Jo Seiser (the Executive Director of NCCT at the time) explains, “as part of the easement, the property must continue to be used as an area for students and the public and cannot be developed or divided. The trust will inspect the property annually to ensure it is maintained.”

Students and other community members will be able to enjoy this beautiful property forever.

The community was so thankful for this gift that the school district organized an Earth Day assembly, to thank the Benn family for its donation. The assembly included musical performances by students and statements of appreciation from students and members of the community. “This donation will ensure that this spectacular piece of nature, which is right in our backyard, will be there for the use of our students,” Rosholt District Administrator Marc Christianson said.

Students and other community members will be able to enjoy this beautiful property forever - what a wonderful gift from the Benn family and North Central Conservancy Trust to the Village of Rosholt! This is a great example of why we work so hard to strengthen all of Wisconsin’s land trusts. The value they offer their communities is priceless and permanent.

Nathan’s Owl

Here at Gathering Waters we love to hear the stories of amazing things that Wisconsin’s land trusts do for their communities. That is, after all, a huge part of why we do what we do. Last fall, Caledonia Conservancy (one of our member land trusts), hosted their second annual “Community Daze”, where dozens of youngsters and adults came out to the King’s Corner property in Caledonia to enjoy a wide array of activities including a Birds of Prey display by Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, which Eric Schumann (our board Treasurer and the Past President of Caledonia Conservancy) and his wife Jane, arranged for the event. One boy named Nathan was particularly enthralled by the owls at the event, this is his story.

Nathan decorating a birdhouse at Caledonia Conservancy Community Daze.

Nathan arrived at the King’s corner property excited to do some nature crafts and learn about the wildlife in the area. He and his sister started off the day by making pine cone bird feeders, decorating a birdhouse, and visiting a skunk, a lemur and a porcupine. Next, Nathan decided to check out the Birds of Prey display and learn about the Barred Owl.

Nathan was awestruck by the creature and amazed to learn that one could potentially be found in his own backyard. He absorbed all the information he could about this mysterious bird including how to make a nesting box. When Nathan returned home, he promptly told his parents that he wanted to build one so they could attract an owl to their home. A few hours and one trip to Menards later, Nathan and his father had built the box and placed it in their backyard.

Nathan and his dad working on the nesting box.

Nathan watched until sunset that night and has since asked his mother for night vision goggles since he learned that the owl will most likely come “really late. like 10:00 pm”.

Every night, Nathan excitedly looked out to the nesting box to check if an owl had decided to call it home, but come Christmas still no owl appeared. His family kept expecting his interest to fade as no owl had showed up, but he kept to it and continued to do research on what type of owl would most likely use the box.

Then on January 4th, 2014, Nathan peered out his kitchen window to find a gray phase Eastern Screech Owl perched in the hole. Nathan’s owl had finally arrived! Although the cold weather kept him indoors, Nathan grabbed binoculars and watched the owl settle in.

The owl that has settled into Nathan’s nesting box.

In Nathan’s research, he found out that female owls selects their mate by the abundance of food and the quality of the nesting shelter, so Nathan is sure that there will be a female joining his owl. Nathan also learned a lesson about symbiotic relationships from his research, since he found out that Easter Screech Owls often have a blind snake in their nesting boxes. Nate told his mom and dad “just like us; a mom, a dad, babies and a helper friend in a house.”

Nathan studies up on owls.

“Just like us; what a valuable concept for children to have in regard to wildlife” his mom stated in a letter to Caledonia Conservancy thanking them for hosting the inspiring event.

Additionally, Nathan recently told his Mom he wanted to be a scientist and she is sure this owl experience has fostered that.

“Perhaps we will look into getting one of those night cameras as it looks like the ‘Year of the owl’ will continue.” Wrote his mother in the letter.  “Thank you Caledonia Conservancy so much for sparking this interest.  You have started something special.”

Welcome Meg Domroese, our new Land Trust Program Director!

We are very happy to announce that Meg Domroese will be joining our team as the new Land Trust Program Director, early this July!

As you may know, our mission is to help land trusts, landowners, and communities protect the places that make Wisconsin special. Unlike any other organization, we accomplish our mission by strengthening Wisconsin land trusts – a network of approximately 50 nonprofit organizations that protect land to preserve its natural, agricultural, or cultural value for public benefit. We provide direct technical assistance to non-profit land trusts; are non-partisan, solution-oriented advocates for public policies supporting land conservation; and use our statewide voice to share the stories of land trusts’ impact and how they address community needs, and inspire broad public support for land conservation.

Welcome to the team, Meg!

Welcome to the team, Meg!

The Land Trust Program Director position is integral to accomplishing this important work. Among other things, Meg will provide direct coaching to and coordination of training for land trusts around the state; she will execute GWC’s signature program to support Wisconsin land trusts (our Land Trust Excellence & Advancement Program); she will facilitate meetings with land trusts and collaborative partners, and coordinate collaborative efforts around the state.

Meg comes to Gathering Waters from the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters where she convened discussions on statewide water and energy issues. She helped found the Citizen Science Association, which, in its first months of existence, already has 1700 members and plans to convene its first national conference in early 2015. Meg led projects in Bolivia and British Columbia, among other places, in her previous position at the American Museum of Natural History’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation. These projects all aimed to promote participation in conservation through partnerships among scientists, educators, and community leaders.

Meg is excited to join an organization dedicated to helping people protect the places that make Wisconsin special. Born and raised in Oak Park, IL, Meg spent many a family holiday on Wisconsin’s lakes and rivers. Having taken up residence in Madison almost two years ago, she can’t get enough of the bike paths, paddling around Lake Wingra, or excursions to parks and small towns around the state. We sure are glad to have her!

Chippewa County Land Conservancy: Joas Park Nature Preserve

The following blog post was taken from the Chippewa County Land Conservancy 2011 Newsletter.

If you had been traveling from Eau Claire to the wilds of Chippewa County at the beginning of the last century, you might have taken the “Interurban” towards Chippewa Falls, stopping short at Stafford’s Crossing. The trip would have cost 14¢, and from there you might have continued your trek on foot going northwest toward the countryside southwest of Chippewa Falls.

New entry archway installed at Joas Park Nature Preserve.

If you had taken that trek, you’d have passed through what is now the Joas Park Nature Preserve. After a short walk to an overlook, the trail you’d be following would have descended into an enchanted valley to cross a trout stream and continue on through a dry oak woods to the farms that lay beyond.

That young traveler might well have been unaware of the ownership of this parcel of land, and it would probably not have occurred to him to care much. As it turns out, the land has been in the family of Joe Joas since 1906, when his uncle C. J. Zeitinger acquired it in trade for a grist mill in Fond du Lac. He sold it to Joe’s father the following year, and Joe became the owner in 1959. In November, 2010, Joe Joas sold the property in a sale/donation arrangement to CCLC.Funding for the purchase came from Chippewa County’s Stewardship Fund.

The property, which is crossed by Misty Creek, hasn’t changed much from the days of our turn-of-the-century traveler, and now the public can forever traverse the paths to enjoy this pristine enchanted island located at the north edge of the Village of Lake Hallie.

Despite its proximity to the urban area, the site has been never developed, isolated by both topography and railroads bordering it on two sides. In fact, that lack of access delayed the acquisition of this property for a decade while the former owner and the CCLC tried to figure out a way to obtain legal public access.

The solution came in the acquisition of the former Canadian National RR by the DNR and City of Chippewa Falls for a recreational trail. While not the most direct access, and not open via motorized vehicles, the property is now legally accessible to the public. As a bonus, its location along the future bike trail will provide a destination for bicycle riders to stop and enjoy, for exploration, study, or a picnic stop.

In the decade of exploring acquisition of this property, CCLC has gotten a chance to learn a lot about its assets, including surveys, appraisals, and biological inventories. In addition to the dry woods and trout stream, it includes ponds and marshes, ravines, steep hillsides, and seeps. This variety of habitats, along with its protected location, makes it an excellent location for a wide variety of plant and animal species.

Despite its natural appearance, some tree planting has occurred over the years, including a series of red and white pine plantings along the southwest property line in 1948 and 1949-1955 in honor of the Wisconsin state centennial, and in the ravine along CTH J. The family used to cut oak firewood from the property years ago, and a relatively small open field has been rented to farmers.

But for Joe Joas, it was always a place to go for a walk to enjoy nature. He attributes his longevity to the walks he has taken there over the years. His wish is for the property to continue to be enjoyed by the public for nature walks for many years to come.

We hope Joe has many years to continue his treks through the Joas Preserve on what has been named the Zeitinger Trail, named after the uncle that started the legacy back in 1906.

Food, drinks, hiking, and land trusts: Is there a better way to spend a Saturday?

Each year, as we welcome another glorious Wisconsin spring, we invite you to our annual Land Legacy Gathering. This event is a celebration of the incredible impact that Wisconsin land trusts have on local communities, as well as all the ways those communities (you!) make it possible for us to continue Wisconsin’s incredible land legacy. It’s a celebration of the ways we are all making a difference, advancing the land trust movement locally and statewide.

Our event co-hosts: the Ice Age Trail Alliance and Chippewa County Land Conservancy, played a key role in the protection of the Krank Nature Preserve.

To make this year’s event extra special, we are partnering with land trusts throughout the northwest region of the state. Our 2014 co-hosts are the Chippewa County Land Conservancy (CCLC) and the Ice Age Trail Alliance (IATA). These two land trusts played a huge role in the protection of the Krank Nature Preserve (the beautiful location of this year’s event) through their collaborative efforts with a pair of landowners (Bernard & Beverly Krank), the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and the National Park Service.

Chippewa County Land Conservancy’s mission is to preserve the scenic quality, rural character and natural landscape of Chippewa county. The Ice Age Trail Alliance’s mission is create, support and protect a thousand-mile footpath tracing Ice Age formations across Wisconsin- the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.  Because of these two land trusts’ hard work, dedication and collaboration, the Krank Nature Preserve is just one of many special places that will remain an undeveloped part of Wisconsin’s heritage, forever.

This event features a hike and reception on the Krank Nature Preserve.

Additional partners for this event are other land trusts that protect special places in Northwest Wisconsin, helping to grow healthy communities throughout the region:

  • Bayfield Regional Conservancy‘s mission is to protect the natural lands, waters, forests, farms and places of scenic, historic, and spiritual value in the Bayfield Region.
  • Kinnickinnic River Land Trust‘s mission is to work with the community to protect the natural resources and scenic beauty of the Kinnickinnic River watershed.
  • North Central Conservancy Trust‘s mission is to protect, worthy scenic, working lands and environmental resources for the benefit of the people of central Wisconsin.
  • Standing Cedars Community Land Trust‘s mission is to establish a farm and river greenway that can demonstrate a model for protecting and restoring field and forest, and supporting community life along the lower St. Croix River.
  • The Conservation Fund‘s mission is to save land for future generations.
  • The Prairie Enthusiasts‘s mission is to ensure the perpetuation and recovery of prairie, oak savanna, and other associated ecosystems of the Upper Midwest through protection, management, restoration, and education.
  • Trust for Public Land‘s mission is to bring land to people.
  • West Wisconsin Land Trust‘s mission is to promote land conservation of family farms, forests, wetlands, rivers, lake shores, bluffs and prairies in Wisconsin.

    Let’s gather to grow the community of people protecting the places that make Wisconsin special!

More information about this event is available on our website. Space is limited, so if you’re interested in attending, please be sure to RSVP by April 28. We hope you’ll make plans to join us as we gather to grow the community of people protecting the places that make Wisconsin special.

The Year at Faville Grove

The Madison Audubon Society, a Wisconsin land trust, offers lucky individuals a unique opportunity to gain experience caring for and managing the land through its Land Steward position. Land Stewards supervise intern field crew, monitor and manage habitat restorations, identify and control invasive species, collect native species, conduct prescribed burns, coordinate volunteer work events, lead field trips and outreach events, prepare and manage grants, monitor conservation easements, record sanctuary phenology and more.

Faville Winter Work Party. Photo from

We recently found an article in Madison Audubon Society’s Spring 2014 newsletter written by one of these land stewards- Matt Weber, from the Faville Grove Sanctuary. Here are his favorite memories from the job during 2013:

  • Hearing whip-poor-wills calling in the Lake Mills Ledge.
  • Seeing the short-eared owls return to the Crawfish River floodplain (Martin, Tillotson, and Charles prairies) after a couple years without their presence.
  • Watching a doe find her fawn out in the prairie to nurse.
  • Discovering two new native species on the sanctuary – Prairie parsley (a threatened species in Wisconsin) and grape honeysuckle.
  • Confirming that Eastern Prairie White-Fringed Orchids (on the state endangered species list) are recovering on Snapper and Faville Prairie State Natural Areas after flooding and drought damaged the populations.
  • Collecting 15 pounds of spiderwort seed in the north Lake Mills Ledge Uplands.
  • Conducting our first-ever summer burn and watching the prairie recover with several species flowering late into September and October including spiderwort, compass plant, prairie dock, sawtooth sunflower, ironwood, rattlesnake master, and prairie blazing star.
  • Collecting 139 native species with 48 individual volunteers and 354 volunteer hours (not including groups).

The short eared owl returns. Photo by Bex Ross.

What a rewarding job and such a thoughtful and inspiring reflection on the joys of being a land steward!

Thank you to Madison Audubon Society for sharing this reflection in your newsletter!

Gathering Waters Conservancy • 211 S. Paterson St. Suite 270 • Madison, WI 53703 • PH 608-251-9131 • FX 608-663-5971 • [email protected]