Archived entries for Natural Heritage Land Trust

Land Swap at Patrick Marsh and Waunakee Prairie

Natural Heritage Land Trust and Dane County this week swapped land to improve management of two public natural areas.

Dane County donated 14 acres of land on the south side of Patrick Marsh Wildlife Area (map), on the eastern doorstep of Sun Prairie, to Natural Heritage Land Trust. The land is adjacent to the 80 acres owned by Natural Heritage Land Trust and is part of a 320-acre wildlife area. In exchange, Natural Heritage Land Trust donated 40 acres of land north of Waunakee to Dane County. This land, the Wilke Prairie Preserve (map), is adjacent to the County’s Waunakee Prairie.

Patrick Marsh

At Patrick Marsh, Natural Heritage Land Trust has been working with Patrick Marsh Conservancy, Sun Prairie Rotary, Patrick Marsh Middle School, and other groups to improve trails and restore wildlife habitat. In November, 250 students from Patrick Marsh Middle School planted 18 acres of prairie in a field on the south side of the marsh (click here for the video). This fall the Land Trust officially adopted the DNR land at the marsh and will work on more improvements to wildlife habitat. The Land Trust works with volunteers, a summer intern crew, Operation Fresh Start, and others to make the wildlife area more accessible, educational, and enjoyable for everyone.

Wilke Preserve

The land Dane County is gaining in this swap, the Wilke Prairie Preserve on Six Mile Creek north of Waunakee, was created in 1994 when Hazel Knudson donated 40 acres to Natural Heritage Land Trust. According to Land Trust Executive Director Jim Welsh, “Hazel’s original goal had been to see her land become part of the county’s system of parks and natural resource areas. It’s nice to see that 22 years later we could fulfill Hazel’s wishes.”

According to Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, “The land exchanges with Natural Heritage Land Trust are wonderful examples of how Dane County continues to collaborate with our conservation partners to deliver a quality and seamless recreational experience for residents of and visitors to Dane County.  These exchanges will increase management efficiencies and reduce operating costs by consolidating land holdings where the County or the Land Trust already owns other conservation and recreational lands.  My special thanks to Natural Heritage Land Trust for all it does to further the goals of the County’s Parks and Open Space Plan.”

Bill Lunney wins Harold “Bud” Jordahl Lifetime Achievement Award 

Bill Lunney has dedicated more than 45 years to advancing state and local conservation efforts through his leadership serving numerous conservation-based organizations either as a board member (including ours!), founder, or board Chair. He has been integral to preserving thousands of acres of land, building strong citizen-based environmental organizations, growing consensus among many stakeholders—particularly public officials—for land preservation, and for promoting a land ethic based on the idea that any land preserved is a gift to future generations.

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Bill Lunney

Through a variety of roles with different organizations and agencies, Bill has helped expand Dane County’s Park system exponentially and helped preserve environmentally significant land all over Wisconsin. He has also aided in the development and implementation of educational and volunteer programs on many of those lands.

These successes would have failed without productive engagement with various stakeholders locally and statewide. “Bill has an ability to lead meetings, diffuse tensions and outline ways forward,” applauds Dane County Parks Director Darren Marsh, “he is exceptionally astute when it comes to personal interactions and motivating people for a cause.”  His levelheaded pragmatism has paid off over the years as Bill has consistently helped bring together a broad coalition in support of reauthorizing, and fending off budget-cuts to the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.


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Bill with Jim Welsh, Executive Director at Natural Heritage Land Trust, and his wife, Judie Pfeifer, at Patrick Marsh Wildlife Viewing Platform.

All told, Bill has served, or still serves, as a Board Member for seven different conservation organizations. This total doesn’t include the involvement he and his wife Judie Pfeifer have with nonprofit organizations and government agencies in other fields. What’s telling is the dedication he brings. “Bill commits himself to major fundraising efforts, membership recruitment efforts, developing educational and volunteer programs and ensuring strong organizational capacity,” says Gail Shea, who served with Bill on Natural Heritage Land Trust’s board, “he doesn’t just join an organization as a passive board member.”

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Bill and his wife Judie Pfeifer

In many ways, Bill’s leadership is responsible for the preservation of thousands of acres of critical habitat, which also serve as educational opportunities. In Dane County and beyond, Bill has made a lasting impact on the conservation movement in Wisconsin and we are proud to honor him with the prestigious Harold “Bud” Jordahl Lifetime Achievement award. Bill will be presented with his award at a Garden Party, hosted by Natural Heritage Land Trust on September 15, in Middleton. If you are interested in attending, please email [email protected]

A Legacy and Gift

John Muir, the nineteenth century naturalist, writer and advocate of wilderness preservation, is most often associated with California. He did, after all, spend much of his later life there, working tirelessly to protect its forests and mountains. But his early years were spent in Wisconsin, on his family’s farm near Portage. It was there, amongst woods, prairies, wetlands and glacial lakes that he developed his lifelong passion for the natural world, which became a national legacy and inspiration.

Born in Scotland, Muir came with his family to the United States as a young boy. His parents settled in Marquette County in central Wisconsin and started farming. He later described his feelings at first seeing his new home: “This sudden splash into pure wilderness – baptism in Nature’s warm heart – how utterly happy it made us!” and “Oh, that glorious Wisconsin wilderness!”

Photo by Brant Erickson

This Stewardship project protects a Wisconsin legacy while providing locals and visitors with a destination spot where they can explore, recreate and more. Photo by Brant Erickson.

About a century later, Bessie McGwin Eggleston and her husband owned a farm in Marquette County that included 38 acres of what had once been part of Muir’s family farm. Bessie felt a strong personal connection to her land and to nature, writing: “I think we have to help our children learn to appreciate and to enjoy the beauties of nature. If we can develop the appreciation for the loveliness which has been given us, we will also develop the desire to preserve these precious gifts for the heritage of future generations.”

Bessie wished to have her entire 198 acre property permanently protected, to benefit future generations. Although she didn’t live to see it, her wish was granted when her family sold the land to Natural Heritage Land Trust. While a number of organizations and donors chipped in, the fulfillment of this dream wouldn’t have been possible without funding from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

credit - McGwin Family Photo Collection

This photo of Bessie on the farm is courtesy of the McGwin Family Photo Collection.

Now, a portion of the land will become part of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail while another will be added to the Fox River National Wildlife Refuge. And all of it will be open to the public for hiking, hunting, cross-country skiing, fishing, trapping, and bird-watching; a fitting tribute to both John Muir and Bessie McGwin Eggleston.

“ In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir. Photo by H. W. Bradley and William Rulofson

“ In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir. Photo by H. W. Bradley and William Rulofson

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.

Kids, wellness, agriculture, and water… thank you!

Whether its creating outdoor classrooms, promoting health and wellness, preserving our agricultural economy and local food base, or enhancing flood protection and water quality, land trusts across Wisconsin are having a significant impact on the communities they serve through innovative partnerships, creative problem solving, and hard work.

Who is making these things possible? Our supporters and the supporters of Wisconsin’s land trusts. In other words, you.

What follows are just a few examples of the community needs being met because of the good work of local land trusts, the support land trusts receive from GWC, and the generosity of our committed members.

Connecting Kids to the Land

Recently, a 220 acre private piece of land, that many citizens of Argyle, Wisconsin had already been using over the years, went up for sale and the Driftless Area Land Conservancy jumped at the chance to keep that piece of land available for the community to continue to enjoy.

View on the Erickson property. Photo by Driftless Area Land Conservancy.

The Erickson property is unique in that it is adjacent to the Village of Argyle Park and the Argyle K-12 School. This land is extremely valuable with the potential for being used as an outdoor classroom and giving additional space beyond the current park for hiking, skiing, canoeing, swimming, fishing, hunting, and viewing wildlife. The location of this property will also provide opportunities for kids to be more connected to the natural world, which contributes to quality of life and, as studies have shown, will make them more likely to develop a passion for land and conservation later in life.

Wellness and the Land

Another project we are really excited about is Door County Land Trust‘s partnership with a group of Ministry Door County Medical Center physicians. These two have teamed up to provide a series of hikes through 2015 that (in addition to providing an enjoyable form of exercise!) expose people to the beauty and tranquility found in preserved lands, as well as offer health and wellness tips.

Three Springs Nature Preserve. Photo by J. Schartner.

With health issues becoming more prominent in everything we do, it’s exciting to see this partnership offering preventative care and tools for making lifestyle changes, to improve physical and mental wellness through a connection with nature.

Preserving Farmland

“We wanted to be proactive and take responsibility for this land.” That was the sentiment expressed by John and Dorothy Priske, farmers who have lived on and farmed their land in Columbia County for nearly 30 years. To accomplish their conservation goals, the Priskes have worked with their local land trust, the Natural Heritage Land Trust and were able to conserve their land partly through the Wisconsin’s Purchase of Conservation Easements (PACE) program which allows farmers to receive funding for conserving their land while still retaining ownership and management decisions.  The Priskes have preserved their farmland and are known throughout the community for their commitment to farming and sustainability.

John and Dorothy Priske and their land. Photo by Jim Klousia of Edible Madison

Protecting a Valuable Resource

Land Trusts also play a vital role in protecting our water resources; for instance, take a look at the innovative project made possible as a result of a partnership between the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and the The Conservation Fund:

Stormwater management is becoming an increasing problem as more undeveloped land is becoming developed and more pavement goes down around us. When the absorption of stormwater is impeded by prolific pavement and development, it pools and runs to the closest open ground or body of water, often collecting pollutants along the way — and ultimately leads to the pollution of our water resources and contributes to flooding.   However if this stormwater is stored and filtered where it lands or before it reaches a body of water, many of these negative effects can be mitigated.

Through this innovative project, The Conservation Fund purchases properties in the Milwaukee, Menomonee, Oak Creek and Root River watersheds, where future development would otherwise most likely occur. The properties, which are found along streams, shorelines and wetlands, will absorb runoff, preventing flooding and the pollution of water sources.


A stormwater management property in Wisconsin. Photo by Nick Bristol from The Conservation Fund website.

This initiative not only assures that stormwater will be managed more sustainably, but also preserves wildlife habitat and provides countless recreational opportunities for the public to enjoy.

Children, health, sustainable farming and water management- these are just a few of the reasons we want to thank you. Wisconsin’s land trusts and we, couldn’t do it without your support!





New, Close Outdoor Fun for Madisonians

Thanks to Natural Heritage Land Trust, a new land acquisition along the Sugar River will be Dane County’s second largest acquisition of land for conservation and its largest acquisition including river frontage ever.

The land and river will be open to the public for hiking, canoeing, cross-country skiing, fishing, hunting and trapping. The river itself is known to offer some of the best trout fishing in the area and with only a 30-minute drive from downtown Madison this land is sure to be popular for years to come. Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said it well: “This will truly be a destination for people in Dane County and beyond”.  The protected land will likely raise property values in the area and help businesses in Verona and Montrose as well.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi speaks at a press conference about the acquisition.

The land was previously owned by the Bruce Co. for around 25 years who had planned to build a golf course on it but were stopped short when the local government did not grant approval. However, the Company is now eager to protect the land from development and share it with the county. The acquisition will include 340 acres that are being purchased by the county and an additional 126 acres which will be placed in a conservation easement to limit future development. Natural Heritage Land Trust, who is partnered with Dane County, has also applied for the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Grant in order to pay for half of the acquisition.

Read more about this exciting project in the Wisconsin State Journal and at

Photo taken by M.P. King of the Wisconsin State Journal

Conserving Local Farms, Food, and Our Heritage

Jim Welsh and Caleb Pourchot of Natural Heritage Land Trust with Dorothy and John Priske.

“We wanted to be proactive and take responsibility for this land.”

That was the sentiment expressed by John and Dorothy Priske, farmers who have lived on, and farmed, their land1 in Columbia County for nearly 30 years. To accomplish their goals of conservation, the Priskes worked with their local land trust, the Natural Heritage Land Trust, which provides conservation assistance in Dane County and the surrounding region.

But even just a few years ago, the Priskes, as well as 15 other farmers in Wisconsin would not have been able to conserve their farm like this because there wasn’t a state farmland protection program.

Working lands working for their communities

Farms like the Priske’s have been protected across Wisconsin with support from their local land trust and Wisconsin’s farmland protection program – a program
fought for by Gathering Waters Conservancy and our partners.

As with other farmland protection programs across the country, Wisconsin’s Purchase of Conservation Easements (PACE) program allows farmers to receive funding for conserving their land while still retaining ownership and management decisions. The land continues to stay on the tax rolls as well, and farmers are free to sell, bequeath, lease, and transfer the land, subject to the conservation agreement.

In addition to the PACE program, funding for this project was also provided by the USDA Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, The Conservation Fund, and the members of Natural Heritage Land Trust. PACE-funded land protection projects are intended to be anchors in areas that have been designated locally for farmland protection.

The Priskes are one such anchor, known throughout the community for their commitment to farming and sustainability.

Community anchors preserving local foods

According to Caleb Pourchot, Natural Heritage Land Trust’s conservation specialist, “Continuous improvement in the health of their land is a passion for the Priskes. Each new conservation practice they incorporate on the farm led them to another.

“After restoring wetlands, controlling runoff from the farm, leaving some pastures ungrazed to benefit nesting grassland birds, and installing a 50-kilowatt wind turbine that powers the entire farm, deciding to work with the local land trust to place a conservation easement on the farm to protect it in perpetuity was a logical next step.”

Farmland and our farming economy are central to many Wisconsin communities. Gathering Waters Conservancy, working with land trusts, the business community, agricultural organizations and farmers, and countless individuals, continues to work to enhance and grow the state’s farmland protection program.

During a challenging State budget cycle, your financial support of and participation in trainings, advocacy work, and educational programs will be very important in the coming year as we work to breathe new life into this farm-friendly program that serves Wisconsin’s agricultural heritage and economy. Together, one farm at a time, we’re bringing local food and our farm economy closer to long-term sustainability.

1John and Dorothy Priske own and operate Fountain Prairie Farms, a 277-acre grass-based farm in Columbia County where they raise Scottish Highland cattle. Known throughout the region for their quality meat, the Priskes are fixtures at the Dane County Farmers’ Market and also sell their meats to local restaurants. For a complete listing of restaurants where their beef is served, please visit

Nurturing At-Risk Youth Through Conservation in Dane County

What follows is an incredible example of the non-traditional partnerships being pursued by Wisconsin land trusts that are having a multi-layered impact on their communities.  Congratulations to the Natural Heritage Land Trust for being such forward-thinking leaders in the Dane County area.

Natural areas that need restoration and young people at risk both benefit from a new partnership between Natural Heritage Land Trust and Operation Fresh Start. The project is thanks, in part, to a recent $38,400 grant from the Madison Community Foundation.

The Dane County Partners for Recreation & Conservation (PARC) grant program, the other main funding source, awarded $21,700 to the joint project in May. Project partners will use the funds to make lasting improvements to protected lands in Dane County and provide job skills and a conservation education to low-income youth.

The project will employ Operation Fresh Start (OFS) crews to complete conservation and facility improvements at five sites where Natural Heritage Land Trust is working to permanently protect natural habitats and wetland features.

OFS has decades of success preparing youth struggling against poverty, school failure and other life-limiting difficulties to become self-sufficient through employment training and education programs. Work on environmental projects is part of the OFS focus on community service.

Through a partnership with Operation Fresh Start, Natural Heritage Land Trust will work with at-risk youth on their protected properties, including Westport Drumlin seen here.

Starting in the fall and winter of 2012, crews will construct fishing platforms and piers at Black Earth Creek and Lake Belle View in the Village of Belleville, and construct or reconstruct trails at Cross Plains Conservancy Parks and the Westport Drumlin State Natural Area.

The program also involves restoration work on various prairie, wetland or savanna habitats at places like Hickory Hill on the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Patrick Marsh, Lake Belle View and Westport Drumlin.

Besides the conservation of cherished local landscapes, says Natural Heritage Land Trust Executive Director Jim Welsh, the joint effort will help the public enjoy and understand these exceptional and accessible natural areas.

“This project is an important chance for our two organizations to invest, along with funders, in the future of our communities,” he adds. “With the support of the Madison Community Foundation and the PARC program, Natural Heritage Land Trust and OFS can give some motivated young people hands-on experience managing natural places, possibly introducing
them to careers that involve environmental protection and the out-of-doors - a benefit to all of us and our natural heritage.”

LEAP is Underway!

By Kate Zurlo-Cuva

In January we kicked off the Land Trust Excellence and Advancement Program and are pleasantly surprised by the tremendous positive momentum we have garnered in the land trust community.  Our two years of preparation and development are coming to fruition this summer – we’ve kicked off our first round of customized services grants and have made new trainings universally available to Wisconsin land trusts.

MaryKay O’Donnell from the Land Trust Alliance (our program partner) and I have been furiously aligning our resources for services with the six land trusts receiving an assessment, implementation plan, and a grant to reach a major goal.  Just this past week alone we had the pleasure of beginning an implementation plan on a gorgeous sunny day for the Green Lake Conservancy with a porch-side view of Green Lake itself, began the guided organizational assessment process for the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, and initiated a path to accrediting the Ice Age Trail Alliance.

Green Lake Conservancy board members, Kate, & MaryKay celebrate planning success over lunch

Each of these organizations is the recipient of a multi-year commitment from GWC and the Land Trust Alliance for mentoring, coaching, and improvement activities – these services total nearly $20,000!  The land trust community has collectively pledged a commitment to perpetual land protection and we take this very seriously.  We feel striving for excellence is the key to our future success.

We’ll continue to develop new opportunities to learn from experts in the field as well as our peers in the Wisconsin land trust community.  And, we’ll open up a new period for applications to the customized suite of services for land trust excellence at the end of the year.

Later this year, we’ll head to Lac du Flambeau to tackle a few goals with the Northwoods Land Trust. We’ll also carry out guided organizational assessments with Natural Heritage Land Trust and the Prairie Enthusiasts.

Please support our efforts to strive for excellence in the land trust community.  Your contribution can make the difference in a land trust becoming nationally accredited, contribute to vital trainings to bring land trusts up to industry standards, and assist us with meeting our mission of protecting the places that make Wisconsin special.

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