Archived entries for from the field

Beerline Bash: Celebrating urban Wisconsin conservation

Ramsey Radakovich, Kevin Haley, Gloria McCutcheon, Dan Kaemmerer, Steve Mech, Sue Black, Guy Smith, Angie Tornes & Jeff Baudry cut the chain opening Milwaukee's Beerline Trail.

What do you get when you cross an abandoned dinner theater, an abandoned railroad line, and some savvy conservationists? A trifecta of conservation opportunity in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood!
On the evening of October 13, GWC had the privilege of co-hosting an event with the River Revitalization Foundation (RRF) – Milwaukee’s urban rivers land trust – to celebrate the demolition of the Wheelhouse and the completion of the Beerline Trail; two dovetailing projects several years in the making.
In late 2009, RRF purchased the 2.8 acre Wheelhouse property – a developed site along the Milwaukee River on the east side of the city that includes the abandoned, former Wheelhouse restaurant. The project will restore blighted urban riverfront land to preserved green space and increase shoreline stabilization and floodplain protection. In addition, the site will connect to the recently-completed Beerline Trail, a segment of Milwaukee County Parks’ Oak Leaf Trail System. The Trail (also a project of RRF), located on an abandoned railroad line formerly known as the “Beerline,” preserves invaluable natural areas along the Milwaukee River, provides public open space and recreational opportunities, and offers commuters access to downtown.
Event attendees enjoyed a leisurely hike along the Trail, a Wheelhouse site tour, and a reception overlooking the Milwaukee River.  (Oh, and pedicab rides back to our cars!) All in all, it was an inspiring and unique opportunity to experience the greening of Milwaukee’s urban landscape and to learn about how GWC and Wisconsin land trusts work together to protect Wisconsin’s special rural and urban places.

From the Road: Land Trusts & America’s Great Outdoors

by Kate Zurlo-Cuva, Land Trust Programs Director

Last week, Mike Carlson and I drove to Minneapolis because the President asked us too.

The Obama administration has launched an expansive effort to collect citizen input about the future of federal policy affecting America’s Great Outdoors.

The America’s Great Outdoors Initiative is, in part, a public online forum to collect people’s ideas about natural resource policy priorities.  As you might expect, an open invitation for all internet-using Americans to chime in on what the government should do about nature has collected an expansive and eclectic array of comments.

“Make EPA do their job!”

“Allow hangliders in National Parks!”

“A coast to coast off road jeep trail!”

“More naturalist [yep, nudist] recreational opportunities!”

Besides the online “idea jam,” the Great Outdoor Initiative is on tour with a series of public meetings.  That’s what we went to Minnesota to attend, and there, I am happy to share, one could discern above the din a clear strain of smart comments about the value of land trusts and how practical improvements to federal programs will allow land trusts to increase the pace of land protection.

Among the plenary speakers was a respected gray beard of the land trust movement, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation’s Mark Ackelson.  Lisa Jackson, the EPA Administrator was also there, along with representatives from the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Senior staff from USDA and Department of Interior.

They asked us what conservation strategies are working in the upper Midwest? Where we see obstacles to conservation and getting people outdoors?  They asked how we think federal agencies can be better partners and what new conservation tools are needed.

Before two busy stenographers recording the whole session, Mike and I shared our feedback that land trusts are valuable, even essential partners to several federal programs, and that some bureaucratic habits and procedural barriers could be changed to connect those dollars with the organizations that can leverage them to great conservation ends.

From a small but articulate and united core of land trust representatives at this session came a clear call to make the enhanced tax incentive for conservation easement donations permanent.  We land trust voices mentioned the importance of increased funding for Farm Bill conservation programs like FRPP and WRP, with some tweaks to those programs to allow land trusts to be more efficient easement-purchasing partners.

We advocated for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and Forest Legacy Program, again, with some changes to allow land trusts direct access to funds for their conservation priorities.

We don’t envy the job of staffers charged with sifting through thousands of comments about what the government should do with America’s Great Outdoors.  But we do commend the efforts to listen to the experience of the partners doing the work on the ground, and we felt reassured that the land trust movement is, as we should be, at the table.

Since squeaky wheels get greased, we encourage you to squeak on behalf of land trusts, too!

What do YOU see as the biggest obstacles to conservation and getting people to the outdoors?

How can land trusts harness federal resources to meet these challenges?

The Department of Interior is still collecting ideas.  There’s another listening session on August 30 in Chicago.  You can submit your comments through the America’s Great Outdoors Web site or share your thoughts in the comments section below and we’ll be sure they’re passed along.

Land Trust Alliance is tracking the ways the land trust community is tapping into this Initiative, and has suggestions about what land trust supporters can share.  Visit the Alliance’s website here.

Touring the Town of Dunn

Our Government Relations Director Mike Carlson escaped his desk for a few hours recently to tour the beautiful Town of Dunn, which boasts a land protection success story—one of a township, practically within view of Madison, that has figured out how to maintain its rural character.

Mike joined some great folks from the Tall Pines Conservancy and Towns of Ashippun and Oconomowoc. The group met with Town of Dunn Board Chair, Ed Minihan, and Land Use Manager, Erica Schmitz, who told them about the town’s highly successful Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program, which has enabled their conservation success.

A PDR program is a voluntary land protection program, whereby farmers can sell their rights to develop their land to either their local government or a land trust.  Doing so ensures that their property will be protected forever.

The group toured several farms that have been protected through the PDR program.  A tour highlight was Bob Uphoff’s hog farm—the closest hog farm to the State Capitol.  Several years ago, Bob protected a large portion of his working farmland with an agricultural conservation easement through the PDR program, and he has since become an excellent spokesman for this farmland protection tool. He is, without a doubt, an extremely passionate guy, and he may have even convinced a few skeptics in the group about the merits of PDR programs.

Hopefully, PDR programs like the Town of Dunn’s will soon become the rule, instead of the exception.  Interest around the state is certainly growing.  Now we just have to turn this interest into action!

Read about another innovative farmland protection effort in Waupaca County

Nine Years in the Making

On the shore of the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Preserve, recently protected by the Door County Land Trust.

A few of us at Gathering Waters have small children at home, for whom a week is a terribly long time, a year an eternity and 9 years unfathomable.  We come to the office each day to work to strengthen organizations that have signed on to perpetual conservation projects.  It’s a good perspective shift:  when you work on a timeline including “forever,” nine years doesn’t seem like a very long time.

Last week, a few GWC staff toured a property once destined to be a coal-burning power plant, purchased last December by the Door County Land Trust.  The land is valuable by any measure - there are over 300 acres bordered by the lake and the ship canal; the woods are lush and serene; it is home to rare ecological systems found only in Door County; it hosts a thriving population of the federally listed endangered Pitcher’s Thistle; it’s open to the public.  It was expensive real estate, and it took a long time and a lot of effort to buy.

A Pitcher's Thistle thriving at the Ship Canal Preserve. Photo courtesy of Philip Hinkle.

We owe a big debt of gratitude to the land trust for their perseverance. Closing this deal took almost 9 years. That’s 108 months’ work to piece together a mosaic of funding (including a grant from the Knowles Nelson Stewardship Fund), align and realign grant applications and deadlines, and position community leadership to back the project.  Furthermore, the land trust has taken on an infinite number of years of future stewardship of the natural treasures there.

So send Door County Land Trust a thank you note because they did all that for our benefit.   Thanks to the Land Trust there will always be a public nature preserve within the city limits of Sturgeon Bay.

Thank all our land trusts! Almost every land trust in the state can recount their own story of a multi-year deal. Years of perseverance are worth the payoff of land permanently protected. Kudos to land trusts for their long, long term vision.

“Forever” is a humbling perspective to work from.  Land trusts have signed up for forever-long projects. So have we, for as long as there are land trusts protecting Wisconsin’s special places, Gathering Waters will be there to make land trusts stronger.

Here’s video shot from their air above the Ship Canal Preserve:

Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Land Trust just established. from Philip Hinkle on Vimeo.

In the Company of Future Conservation Hall of Fame Inductees

I had a meeting “in the field” scheduled the day of Bud Jordahl’s memorial service.  I contemplated cancelling it, since I would have liked to sit among Bud’s admirers and be reminded of him. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought Bud would approve of my previous engagement and encourage me not to change my plans.

My “meeting” was with a high school environmental science class touring the Lulu Lake Preserve.  Anyone concerned about Nature Deficit Disorder among Wisconsin youth can be reassured that at least a few teenagers in Wales, WI are outside and loving it.

This is Cathy Chybowski

These are some of her students

The first portion of the Lulu Lake Preserve was purchased by the Nature Conservancy in 1986.  Thanks to the Conservancy, the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund and several surrounding private landowners, the preserve today includes the lake and surrounding 1,450 acres.

Students from Kettle Moraine High School AP Environmental Science (aka APES) visit Lulu Lake every fall to sample water quality near the headwaters of the Mukwonago River, collect prairie seed and study the ecology of bogs, fens and oak savannahs. Many of them return as volunteer invasives warriors during winter months.  Then, in the spring, after the AP test is over, they come back to Lulu Lake for a sort of victory lap field day.

That’s when we (myself and Gathering Waters’ intern Val Klessig) joined them.  In four hours, here’s some of what Mrs. Chybowski and APES students taught us:

  • That during the last glaciation, a block of ice broke off a main glacier, melted and formed a kettle that is now Lulu Lake.
  • Because of the geology and hydrology, there is an unusual combination of plant communities thriving here, including nearly 70 acres of oak savanna, one of the most endangered native plant communities on the continent.
  • A fen is a wetland fed from groundwater and the surrounding watershed, while a bog receives its water from the top-down, mostly as rainwater.  Fens are alkaline, bogs acidic, so the plant communities in each are pretty different.
  • A turtle with a bright yellow throat is a Blanding’s turtle, not a painted turtle.
  • At the time of our visit, robins had already fledged one brood and were laying the next set of eggs of the spring.
  • If you pick it early enough, garlic mustard makes a reasonably tasty pesto.

And even though these kids DID all just study for the AP Environmental Science exam, they weren’t just parroting test-prep facts.  They know this stuff.  And they like it.

We stopped often as excited kids announced bird sightings (I’m a birding novice, and this group of teenagers showed me: a bluebird, rose-breasted grosbeak, an oriel and a migrating warbler).

Garret, a hunter and avid outdoorsman ,was the first to spot a deer across the bog before it bolted.  He told me,  “this class is so cool…It makes you aware of all the things going on, good and bad, …and it’s up to you if want to take action or not.”

We met Tori, who said she’s not planning on any sort of science major in college, but that she wants to continue promoting good stewardship, maybe by joining an environmental club.  She was candid about what she doesn’t like about Lulu Lake:  “ticks, I really don’t like ticks. … but everything else is amazing, … and Mrs. Chybowski is so informed about everything, it makes it ten times more incredible.”

From just a few hours watching her interact with her students (admittedly, a scientifically small sample size), we’re ready to confirm that Cathy Chybowski is an extraordinary teacher.

Lulu Lake, she pointed out, is only 30 minutes from their school and a gem—almost unique in the world.  Even so, without a little encouragement  (like a required field trip), her students might never know it was there.  “… They would never choose to go out on their own, and if they have not had experiences as a family to expose them to the outdoors and the really neat things out here, by the time they get to high school they don’t have sensitivity for those things, it’s a challenge to show them and help them appreciate what’s here. Because it’s the appreciation that leads to environmental sensitivity, and sensitivity, of course, is what we need.”

I believe her that fostering environmental interest among busy teenagers is a challenge, but it’s one Mrs. Chybowski seems to have overcome handily.  She’s exceeded it, really.  In addition to current APES students, a handful of alum come back to the Lulu trip each year, on what’s become a kind of annual pilgrimage.

Mrs. Chybowski and Evan, an APES alum

Current and former students were unanimous:  Mrs. Chybowski makes APES one of the best classes of their lives.  Jenna, now a UW-Madison freshman, laughed and told me, “Oh, Mrs. Chybowski will never admit it but she’s the most amazing woman in the entire world, and she is so modest but she inspires so many people I know.  I’ve always had an interest in the environment but taking APES has just made me want to continue with that, and Mrs. Chybowski is a huge, huge reason why.”

Jenna’s got her sights on environmental law, but she’s going to spend the summer restoring wetlands in New Orleans where damage from Katrina caused saltwater infiltration into freshwater systems.

Evan, another alum and avid birder, interned at Lulu Lake last year and this year is working on a grassland bird research project through UW.  He’s a Conservation Biology and Botany major at and is certain that he’s headed for a conservation career somehow.

Megan, also an alum, said she is still deciding between Microbiology and Zoology.  If it weren’t for this class, she said, she probably would not have chosen a science field at all.

When I commended her on her fledged alum, Mrs. Chybowski was humble.  “Our future land stewards have to come from some place, and whether these people go on in some environmental or natural resource career really doesn’t matter to me, what matters is that I know they will have some sensitivity for the environment through these experiences at Lulu.”

Students paddling up the Mukwonago

Not every one of Cathy Chybowski’s APES graduates will become conservation biologists, environmental advocates or champion green lawmakers, but it’s easy to be optimistic that they’ll all carry with them a sense of stewardship that their teacher and Lulu Lake helped define.   Maybe one of them will someday fill Bud Jordahl’s shoes, and we’ll all have people like Mrs. Chybowski, great land trusts like The Nature Conservancy, and the extraordinary places they protect, like Lulu Lake, to thank.

— posted by Pam Foster Felt

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