Archived entries for LEAP

A Week in our Shoes

We had a busy, busy week last week. Want to hear about it?  Here’s a snapshot of some of the day-to-day and out-of-the-ordinary things that fill our days as we work to strengthen Wisconsin’s land trusts…

Ben Niemann (GWC board member) and Sue Niemann with Executive Director Mike Strigel at the WLIA Conference

Gathering Waters’ Executive Director spent last week conference hopping!  This may not sound exciting to most of you out there, but we’re land conservation geeks and love the opportunity to hear from industry experts and explore new ideas to enhance our work.  The first conference that Mike attended was the Wisconsin Wetlands Association‘s Conference and presented a valuable opportunity to explore the role that land trusts can play in strategically protecting Wisconsin’s wetland gems.  The second conference, the Wisconsin Land Information Association Conference, helped advance a current GWC initiative in which we’re exploring how geographical tools and technology can enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of land trust work.


Government Relations Director, Mike Carlson, hard at work at his desk.

Mike Carlson, our government relations director, was busy last week getting ready for the release of the Governor’s draft executive budget (due to be released later today!)  To ensure that public funding remains available to land trusts to protect the special places in our communities, Mike works to make the value of land trust work known among our policy-makers. This involves meetings with legislators, as well as connecting local land trusts with their legislators to tell the stories of how their work enhances the quality of life of citizens across the state.


Land Trust Program Director, Kate Zurlo-Cuva, looking happy to work with Wisconsin land trusts!

Kate spent the week reviewing application for support from land trusts across the state.  Through our Land Trust Excellence and Advancement Program (LEAP), land trusts can apply for one-on-one services that address their particular needs and enhance their capacity and sustainability.  Applications were due last week, and new program participants will be announced in early March.   Stay tuned!


Program Assistant and event planner extraordinaire, Becky Binz

Sara and Becky have been busy preparing for our upcoming Land Legacy Gathering - a fun and inspiring event that honors the people who make our work possible.  This year we’re thrilled to partner with the Driftless Area Land Conservancy — a special land trust in southwestern Wisconsin working to protect the rugged features and ancient geology of Wisconsin’s driftless area.  If you’d like an opportunity to tour one of the region’s most beautiful protected properties, meet GWC and land trust leadership, or just enjoy some locally-sourced food and drinks, mark your calendar and join us on April 27th!

Associate Director, Sara DeKok

At GWC, we love Wisconsin — and all of the special places that make it home.  And these are are just a few of the things that we go to work to do to help people protect those places for all of Wisconsin.

What did you do last week to help protect Wisconsin’s special places.  We’d love to hear your story!  Share it with us here or email [email protected]

LEAPing into 2013

Land trusts are impacting communities through our signature program!

For those of you not involved in land trust work day-to-day, it can be tough to stay on top of the lingo and acronyms.  LEAP, or Wisconsin’s Land Trust Excellence & Advancement Program, is GWC’s signature program to deliver services to land trusts to help ensure their sustainability, effectiveness, and credibility.

We launched the program in 2011 in partnership with the Land Trust Alliance to address the growing challenges faced by our maturing land trust community.  Through small grants, customized support, trainings, and mentoring, we’re building land trusts’ capacity to continue to steward and protect the forests, farms, trails, rivers, and urban green spaces across Wisconsin.

We’re two years in to LEAP and already starting to see local, on-the-ground impact of this program.  Here’s one inspiring example…

With support from LEAP, the Driftless Area Land Conservancy is inspiring a lifelong love of nature through storytelling.

It is well documented that today’s youth are more disconnected from nature than ever before - a trend that more than one local land trust is working to reverse.  

Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC) is a small, yet powerful land trust working to protect the rugged beauty and ancient geology of southwest Wisconsin’s driftless area.  As a 2012 recipient of a special services grant through LEAP, DALC received support to enhance their work connecting local children to the special, natural places in their backyards.

For the younger set (ages 2 - 5), DALC is partnering with the local library on a nature and farm-based storytelling program to inspire a lifelong love of the land.  Kids ages 6 -11 have the opportunity to  experience nature, join in outdoor activities, and reflect on the natural world through the Driftless Explorers Club.

DALC is growing the next generation of conservation leaders in southwest Wisconsin and instilling in them the gift of a lifelong relationship with the land.  Thank you, DALC!

This is just one example of the myriad impacts that land trust are having on communities across the state — and we’re here to help enhance that impact.  Through LEAP, we’re proud to report that we’ve offered customized, one-on-one support to 34% of Wisconsin land trusts. In addition, we’ve:

  • Coached 750 land trust staff and board members through trainings, workshops, one-on-one assistance, and virtual learning opportunities.
  • Helped increase the number of nationally accredited land trusts in Wisconsin from one to six (while also helping several more in process).
  • Provided direct grants to land trusts to help them hire their first staff, improve outreach techniques to the community, or acquire valuable leadership development training.

GWC is currently accepting applications for a new set LEAP Standards & Practices grants.  Stay tuned for a forthcoming announcement of the land trusts joining the program in 2013!


Dirty sneakers, bright futures

This article is taken from GWC’s upcoming FY2012 annual report.  Read on for a sneak peek or check your mailboxes soon.  If you’re not already on our mailing list, send us an email at [email protected]

Caring for the land and Wisconsin’s kids
Things may not be what they seem.

After 40 years of environmental education in many of our country’s schools, kids are loving nature as never before, right? Sadly, today’s youth are actually less interested in the environment conserving resources than previous generations*.

In fact, for adults to care about the land, they need regular contact with nature before the age of twelve**.

“Thank you for showing us the habitats. I liked the bugs and the critters. The water and the woods were my favorite. I would love to go there again.” – School to Nature program participant

With support from GWC, land trusts throughout the state are mobilizing to ensure that there will be generations of kids that continue to share a deep passion for the land as adults. One inspiring example of these efforts comes from the Caledonia Conservancy.

Connecting Kids with Nature

Thanks to the assistance from Gathering Waters Conservancy, Caledonia Conservancy has increased its capacity to introduce more local kids to the magic of the outdoors and strengthen connections to nature through its School to Nature program.

Started in 2009, the Caledonia Conservancy’s School to Nature program works with students to explore the natural world through field trips to the Conservancy’s preserved lands located throughout the Village of Caledonia in southeastern Wisconsin – a corner of the state known for its dense population and development pressures.

In its short existence, the program has welcomed over 2,400 children from area schools, and utilizes the Wisconsin DNR’s Project Learning Tree  curriculum. Many of the kids had not been in the “wilds” of nature before.

“Land trusts have a short and long-term role to play in combating the national trend of childhood apathy toward the environment and conservation,” says Sandy DeWalt, vice president of Caledonia Conservancy and current  chairperson of the School
to Nature Program committee.

Starting small, and growing
To accommodate a program like this, as well as maintain an active land protection program, you might expect Caledonia Conservancy to be a multi-staff operation. But what you’ll discover is that this land-trust-that-could has been all-volunteer led for most of its existence, hiring its first part-time staff person this year.

Many of these kids’ love of learning and enthusiasm for being outside dramatically increases with field trips to these land trust properties. It’s a special program that is reaching a community of kids who may not have other opportunities to explore nature.”
– Jill Baranowksi, retired teacher and School to Nature Program volunteer

“The services that we received from Gathering Waters Conservancy have been invaluable to our growth and capacity,” says Suzi Zierten, Caledonia
Conservancy’s new executive director. “We discovered that we could accomplish more conservation work once our “house was in order,” and programs like our School to Nature program wouldn’t be what they are today without that assistance.”

For one young, recent program participant, it’s less of a technical issue. In his enthusiastic words, “Thank you for the awesome time. I learned so many things like what a Jack in the Pulpit was. I had a lot of fun because I don’t go out in the woods often. Thank you for helping us.”

This coming year, with your support, Gathering Waters Conservancy will be able to assist additional land trusts to build their capacity.

In addition to the support they receive from GWC, Caledonia Conservancy’s School to Nature Program is made possible through the support of the Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network, the Racine Community Foundation, and Racine Junior League.


*Martha Irvine, “Young People Not So ‘Green’ After All,“ Seattle Times, 15 March 2012 ( To download the full study

**N. Well and K. Liekis. 2006. Cornell University study; The Cornell researchers used a sample of more than 2,000 adults, ages 18 to 90, who were living in urban areas throughout the country and answered
telephone questions about their early childhood nature experiences and their current adult attitudes and behaviors relating to the environment. See http://

Photos by Roy Bohn

Connecting Families and Kids to Nature in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area

Established in 2000, the Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC) works to protect the rural landscape and quality of life in southwestern Wisconsin including the protection of farms, forests, grasslands, wetlands, soils and the natural beauty of the region.

In just two years since joining DALC as the sole part-time executive director, David Clutter has ushered this land trust into a period of growth.  Following the recent hire of DALC’s third staff person, their new land protection associate, this organization is tackling some exciting new initiatives.

A New Project Brings Family Together
DALC’s most recent project involved the protection of Barbara Smith’s 58-acre property. Barb’s land (which includes beautiful and unique remnant prairie and oak savanna) is bridging the gap between the generations and providing her family with shared experiences that bring  them closer together.  In July of this year Barb and her family chose to permanently protect the parcel, while keeping it on the tax rolls so that it can be passed along to the next generation.

Connecting Kids With Nature
DALC recently kicked off a new project that focuses on creating positive and joyful outdoor experiences for kids ages 6-11. They based this program on research that shows kids are becoming more and more disconnected from the natural world and are unlikely to share a passion for the land and conservation. The Explorers program gets kids into nature, having fun, and hopefully finding that sense of wonder many of us felt as children . . . and still do as adults. If you have questions and/or know of someone with a child that could benefit from this experience, please feel free to contact the staff at Driftless.

To learn more or support this great organization, consult the Driftless Area Land Conservancy’s website.


Go West!

In early October, Gathering Waters Conservancy staff had to the pleasure of attending the Land Trust Alliance‘s Rally: The National Land Conservation Conference in Salt Lake City.  Some of us were lucky enough to arrive early to explore the beautiful (and quite different from Wisconsin!) landscape:

A view of Canyonlands National Park near Moab.

The Salt Lake Temple in Temple Square, Salt Lake City.

Once the conference began, we were eager to take full advantage of this once-a-year opportunity to meet with and learn from our peers from across the country.  Here are a few highlights from our experience:

  • In a session run by the Willistown Conservation Trust, based in southeastern Pennsylvania, we learned about their community farm program - an innovative program that furthers the organization’s mission of preserving land by deepening the community’s connection between food, land, and nature.

A rendering of Rushton Farm, the setting for the Willistown Conservation Trust’s community farm program.

  • Together with our partners at the Land Trust Alliance, we brought together the land trust staff and board members from Michigan and Wisconsin to discuss recent successes and challenges, and share news of upcoming opportunities to benefit their work.

Wisconsin and Michigan conservationists meet over breakfast at Rally.

  •  The Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico provided details on their wonderful and inspirational example of integrating their land trust, scientists and citizens to advance research for conservation, improve management decisions and increase community stewardship.  This is quite an amazing program!
  • Marc Smiley of Solid Ground Consulting and Dale Bonar of the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust shared their experiences with the merging of land trusts into an organization with improved capacity and conservation results.  We learned about conditions that lead to successful merger, some alternatives to merger, and insight about how to approach the options using the merger of several Hawaiian land trusts.
  • A major theme of Rally was community engagement and the need to develop new strategies to demonstrate the importance of what land trusts do.  On this note, we were fortunate to attend a workshop in which Colorado Conservation Trust and the Metropolitan Group discussed findings of their two-year community engagement pilot program with the Palmer Land Trust and Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust of Colorado.  We learned how to identify new audiences and stakeholders to support conservation and the value of community engagement in every aspect of an organization.  Very enlightening stuff!

We’re already looking forward to Rally 2013.  Save the date: September 17 - 19 in New Orleans!


Kettle Moraine Land Trust Earns National Accreditation

The Land Trust Accreditation Commission announced last week that 23 new land trusts around the nation have earned the accreditation seal, with one Wisconsin land trust among them.

Kettle Moraine Land Trust (KMLT) has become just the fifth Wisconsin land trust to earn this coveted recognition!  A Land Trust Excellence & Advancement Program participant, KMLT joins Bayfield Regional Conservancy, Caledonia Conservancy, Kinnickinnic River Land Trust, and Mississippi Valley Conservancy.  The Nature Conservancy, which works internationally and has a very active Wisconsin Chapter, was also awarded accreditation last week.

President Jerry Petersen with KMLT’s Accreditation Files

Why is this a big deal?  The accreditation seal is truly a mark of distinction for land trusts because it recognizes that they have met strict national standards for excellence, upholding the public trust and ensuring that conservation efforts are permanent.

Sue Heffron, a board member for the KMLT, expresses how important achieving accreditation is: “We learned that the steps to protecting and preserving land are not trivial, and must be done correctly. By achieving the seal of excellence through national land trust accreditation, we embrace the serious work of permanently preserving important lands in our community.” Operating with nonprofit excellence is increasingly important as Kettle Moraine Land Trust increases its pace of conservation work in Walworth County.

Congratulations on this supreme achievement!


Retreating to the Northwoods…

Although this post’s title may imply it, we’re not talking about the summer heat driving us north.  However, we do feel fortunate that we were able to spend last week in one of Wisconsin’s most special (and seasonally temperate!) places for our annual Land Trust Retreat.

Together with our local hosts, the Northwoods Land Trust, we welcomed over 65 land trust staff and board members from across the state to Minocqua for three days of trainings, networking, and fun.

Highlights from this, our 13th annual Retreat, included:

  • trainings on strategic planning, baseline documentation, and effective internal controls for land trusts
  • conversations with our state and federal conservation partners, including an update on the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program and partnership opportunities with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
  • our annual land trust dessert potluck (yum!) and a tour of the new Winter Park Pines Nature Preserve - the largest conservation easement ever donated to a Wisconsin land trust, Northwoods Land Trust.

Retreat participants touring Winter Park Pines Nature Preserve

A special thank you to all of our participants for their commitment to strengthening their organizations, and to our sponsors who continue to make it possible for us to offer this valuable training opportunity to our members for no cost.


A (Cleaner) River Runs Through It

There are countless benefits to land preservation and conservation; the hard work our member land trusts do every day. Examples of these benefits are often hidden from view or difficult to demonstrate. Fortunately, sometimes they are obvious and elegant. It rained heavily in Green Lake County during the afternoon of May 3rd. Bur Zeratsky, president of Green Lake Conservancy (GLC), was on the east end of the lake when he noticed two remarkably distinct streams of water flowing side-by-side from the Silver Creek estuary to drain into the lake. The north side stream was clear and clean-looking. The south stream was brown, muddy, and loaded with runoff silt.

Clear and a silty streams come together to drain into Green Lake

That murky stream largely stemmed from Dakin Creek, which flows through farming operations that include tillage into or very near the stream bank. The “clean” stream came from Silver Creek which flows through several GLC-protected properties that use better farming practices.

A stark example of effects of land use practices on water quality

Bur admits he had a bit of an ‘A-ha!’ moment.  As part of their mission, GLC is dedicated to land conservation that improves water quality and is also working to consider the greater community impact in the Green Lake watershed. To meet this end, GLC wanted a bigger, better tool belt, so to speak.

GLC decided to apply to Gathering Waters Conservancy for customized LEAP services to help professionalize their organization. Over the past two years Gathering Waters conducted a guided assessment using land trust standards and practices, developed an implementation plan to address the recommendations from the assessment, and determined a targeted goal for improving board member communication and record-keeping through development of an online database. As a result, LEAP is helping GLC conform to best practices for the land trust industry and assisting them with meeting their broader goals.

According to Bur, “While my observations would have occurred regardless, my ability to explore action to address the underlying concerns is greatly enhanced due to Gathering Waters’ expertise and generous support. Thanks for all the ongoing support as the Green Lake Conservancy ‘grows up.'”

 To see Bur Zeratsky’s narrated video of the water flowing under the bridge from Silver Creek inlet into Green Lake, please click here.

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