Archived entries for River Revitalization Foundation

Rooting Kids in Conservation

Do you remember your first job? Perhaps it was bagging groceries, babysitting, or mowing a neighbor’s lawn. These early experiences may not lead directly into dream jobs, but they do build a strong foundation of basic job skills and work ethic that help us fulfill our later career goals.

Land trusts like the River Revitalization Foundation (RRF) are working to provide similar types of job training opportunities to young adults in the Milwaukee area.

RRF is a land trust that works diligently for environmental conservation, public access, and recreation in Milwaukee’s river watersheds. Since 2008, it has also provided opportunities for area high school and post-graduate students to gain exposure to the natural world and job experience as part of the city’s Earn & Learn Community Work Experience Program.

Broderick and Dontrell, two of the young adults involved in Earn & Learn.

Executive Director Kimberly Gleffe describes the importance of this experience, “Connecting urban youth to nature in the city through employment as ecological restoration interns not only instills a sense of stewardship of our natural resources but teaches job skills as well, providing a firm foundation of experience that carries with them.”

Guided by student mentors from UW-Milwaukee, program participants learn to identify plants, remove non-native species, plant natives, and lead guided hikes on trails they have cared for. There is a daily connection with the outdoors, fostering excitement about the city’s green spaces.

Through Earn & Learn, RRF and other non-profit organizations are providing Milwaukee’s youth with work-readiness skills while starting them on the path to achieving their dreams.

The crew and their mentors out on a canoe trip.

According to Marcell, one Earn and Learner, “This experience will help me get other jobs. I learn basic job skills and how to follow rules. I hope to be a music producer in the future. Earn & Learn helps me get the basic skills I need to do that.” From conservation to making records, that’s music to our ears.

This is just one of the inspiring stories that will be featured in our Fall edition of our newsletter, Crosscurrents, highlighting the important work land trusts are doing throughout the state, fulfilling needs and enriching their communities! Keep your eyes open for the newsletter, coming later this month!

Photos by the River Revitalization Foundation

Innovative Milwaukee Program Garners National Attention

One of our very own has just received national recognition in the Wall Street Journal for the innovative work they are involved in.  You can read the full article here.

We applaud our member, the River Revitalization Foundation! The Foundation is one of six environmental groups in the Milwaukee area that is a part of the Conservation Leadership Corps.

The Conservation Leadership Corps is the brainchild of Johnson Controls in partnership with Student Conservation Association and Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board. The program aims to provide local youth with leadership training, a strong work ethic, and a sense of environmental stewardship through participation in new trail development, planting of native trees, grasses and flowers, invasive plant species removal, and erosion control.

The 60 Milwaukee-area high school students selected for the Corps are an elite crew chosen out of a 2 month interview process and over 250 applicants. Students are selected based on leadership, work ethic, civic engagement, and commitment to the environment.

First jobs don’t usually lead directly to dream jobs, but they do build a strong foundation of basic job skills and work ethic that will help these students fulfill their career goals later in life.

We’re so excited to learn that the River Revitalization Foundation is helping meet real needs defined by the Milwaukee community while at the same time instilling a sense of environmental compassion and advocacy in these young adults; they are after all, our future.

Photo: Johnson Controls

Photo: Johnson Controls


New Faces in the Wisconsin Land Trust Community

Land Trusts have been busy…hiring new talent! We’d like to welcome these fresh new faces and congratulate some familiar faces who have new roles in the land trust community:

Corinne Dawson (left) & Meghan Dennison (right)

Bayfield Regional Conservancy (BRC) just announced a promotion of Meghan Dennison to Executive Director. Meghan joined the Conservancy in 2011 as the Director of Development and Outreach before moving up to her current position. The Conservancy has also hired Corinne Dawson as its Conservation Director. Corinne joined the team from Wauwatosa where she was working as a research technician for the WI DNR. With both new hires and new leadership, BRC is growing stronger as they continue their work in northern Wisconsin. Welcome Corrine and congrats Meghan!


Gary Funk feels passionate about serving his community by working in the field of conservation.

We’d like to welcome Gary Funk, the new Executive Director at Madison Audubon. Gary spent the first 20 years of his career working in public and higher education. Then, he joined the Community Foundation of the Ozarks as their Vice-President of Development and Affiliates before ultimately becoming their President and CEO. We can’t wait to see all of the innovative ideas that Gary will bring to Madison Audubon.


Jay Peterson has experience both as a consultant and staff fund-raiser.

Jay Peterson just joined the West Wisconsin Land Trust team as their Development Director…welcome Jay! Jay brings with him a broad base of non-profit development experience in both Wisconsin and Minnesota. Jay resides in Eau Claire and when he isn’t at work, truly values the time he is able to spend gardening, fishing, reading, and making or listening to music. We are so excited for the wealth of experience that Jay is going to bring to the land trust community!


Betsy Kerlin’s previous experience includes work with one of Pennsylvania’s land trusts.

A warm welcome to Betsy Kerlin who is the newest Executive Director at North Central Conservancy Trust. Betsy comes to Wisconsin from Kentucky where she worked as a Senior Grants and Contracts Administrator in Northern Kentucky University’s (NKU) Office of Research. However, Betsy is no stranger to land trusts and cold climates; prior to NKU Betsy worked as the only full-time employee at the Land Conservancy of Adams County in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. We’re so happy to have you in Wisconsin, Betsy!


Cinnamon Rossman, Door County Land trust’s new Communication Coordinator

Welcome to Cinnamon Rossman who joined Door County Land Trust as  their Communication Coordinator in November 2012. Cinnamon has past experiences with non-profits in both Door County and Milwaukee. She received her BA  in English and Studio Art from Alverno College in Milwaukee. Cinnamon is a  Door County native and according to her, “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else!” We’re so excited to see all of the great work you’ll do in the place you love!



Tanya Bueter

We’d like to welcome Tanya Bueter as the newest member to River Revitalization Foundation‘s team. Tanya is their new Land Manager. She earned a BS in Natural Resource Management - Environmental Education from UW-Stevens Point in 2010. Since then, she has been working as a Restoration Supervisor where she designed and implemented various restoration techniques. We are so excited you decided to come to Milwaukee and continue making a difference in Wisconsin’s special places!


If you see any of these friendly faces around (especially at our Land Trust Retreat on August 8-10!), make sure you introduce yourself!  They have added a wealth of talent to the land trust community and we can’t wait to see all of the great things these fresh faces are able to do to help us protect the places that make Wisconsin so special.

New Access to the Milwaukee River!

The last gap of public access to the Milwaukee River is finally being closed and will make it possible to easily cross from the “RiverWalk” to the Milwaukee River Greenway.  The River Revitalization Foundation has purchased the land and a ranch-style house that will serve as their new business office.  This purchase of land along the Milwaukee River provides public recreation, helps to improve water quality, and revitalizes area neighborhoods.

The half-acre lot and ranch-style house that will be used by the River Revitalization Foundation for their offices

By moving the office to the trail, the Foundation will be closer to the resource they’re working to protect as well as the people they’re hoping will use it. The new land allows the public to walk along the RiverWalk all the way up to the Beer Line Trail to take the pedestrian bridge to the East Bank Trail, then up to the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum, Riverside Park and the Urban Ecology Center.  Plans are already being envisioned for the ecology center which would organize group hiking and camping trips for Milwaukee children in the river corridor.

Once this area is combined with the Foundation’s three-acre Wheelhouse property next door, it will serve as an oasis within the bustle of Milwaukee and will help to create lasting experiences for residents in the area.

The Foundation received a loan from The Conservation Fund to acquire the riverfront property and is now seeking a reimbursement grant from the Knowles Nelson Stewardship Program to pay for the purchase. Learn more about this and the other exciting work that will connect Milwaukee adults and children with the river and nature in a recent article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

2012 Land Trust of the Year

This year we’re thrilled to recognize one of our most unique lands trusts as our 2012 Land Trust of the Year, the River Revitalization Foundation (RRF).  RRF stands out among its Wisconsin cohorts as one of the few land trusts in the state that works solely to protect urban lands.  Working within the City of Milwaukee, RRF prioritizes the protection of the land bordering the Milwaukee, Menomonee, and Kinnickinnic Rivers to create a parkway for recreation and education, to revitalize the surrounding neighborhoods, and to improve water quality.

Since its founding in 1994, RRF has protected 16 acres in Milwaukee.  This may seem like small change, but it comes with a steep price tag.  Land prices in urban Milwaukee are among the highest in the state, and the parcels are among the smallest, but bring great value to the people living nearby.  But these challenges haven’t slowed RRF’s progress or dampened their commitment.

In fact, these challenges have pushed RRF to become incredibly adept at creating successful partnerships to benefit the community.  By working with stakeholders like local agencies and community youth groups, RRF is illustrating the synergies that exist between land conservation and urban development.

This year, RRF closed on one of its most ambitious projects to date.  Just last month RRF secured a $1.6 million land donation from the estate of the late Pieter Y. Godfrey. This 4.5 acre parcel, adjacent to Riverside Park along the Milwaukee River, is a critical piece of the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum.  The River Revitalization Foundation, with the Urban Ecology Center, is a partner in the creation of the first urban arboretum of its kind in Milwaukee. The land gift will serve as a match for additional acquisitions in the river valley within the Milwaukee River Greenway.

Before and after image of the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum

This is just one example of the creative and inspiring work being done by this land trust in an unconventional, and often overlooked, environment.  We’re honored to bring to them the recognition that they deserve and hope you’ll join us in thanking them for the positive impact they’re having on Milwaukee’s landscape.

Please join us on October 4 at the Monona Terrace in Madison when we recognize the River Revitalization Foundation and the other winners of Gathering Waters Conservancy’s Land Conservation Leadership Awards.

Highlighting Great Lakes Restoration and Protection Efforts by Wisconsin Land Trusts

In early August, we had two exciting opportunities to highlight the important work that Wisconsin land trusts are doing for Great Lakes restoration and protection in both the Lake Superior and Lake Michigan basins.

On August 6, GWC Government Relations Director, Mike Carlson, joined GWC Board members, Tia Nelson and Ellen Kwiatkowski, for a tour of the Frog Bay Tribal National Park with Congressman Sean Duffy.  The Frog Bay project, which protects over a ¼ mile of Lake Superior shoreline, involved a partnership between the Bayfield Regional Conservancy and the Red Cliff Tribe and utilized federal funding through the Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program (CELCP).  Congressman Duffy has demonstrated leadership by assuming the role as Co-Chair of the Great Lakes Task Force with the Northeast-Midwest Institute, and this tour provided an important opportunity to show the value of programs like CELCP and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), as well as the important role that land trusts can play in permanently protecting critical parcels along the Great Lakes.

It was a beautiful day on the shore of Lake Superior overlooking the Apostle Islands!

GWC board members Tia Nelson and Ellen Kwiatkowski tour Frog Bay Tribal National Park with Congressman Duffy and Chad Abel with the Red Cliff Tribe.

On August 10, we hosted the Great Lakes Restoration Tour:  Milwaukee Area Successes.  This tour was organized in partnership with the Healing our Waters Coalition (HOW), the River Revitalization Foundation (RRF), the Urban Ecology Center (UEC), and Ozaukee Washington Land Trust (OWLT) and emphasized significant conservation sites in southeast Wisconsin.  These sites highlighted progress, as well as ongoing needs and opportunities, in Great Lakes protection and restoration. The Milwaukee sites included the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum, which is a GLRI restoration project adjacent to the UEC and Riverside Park, and RRF’s Wheelhouse parcel, which is a restoration of a blighted site in the Milwaukee River Area of Concern into a riverfront park. Both sites sit along the Milwaukee River and are part of the 800 acre Milwaukee River Greenway.  During the morning we heard from representatives from HOW, Rotary Club of Milwaukee, the Southeast Wisconsin Watersheds Trust, UEC, RRF, and the Conservation Fund.

Tour participants stand on the bank of the Milwaukee River and hear about the surrounding restoration work spearheaded by the Urban Ecology Center.

Just a mile down the River, and mile from where the River flows into Lake Michigan, tour participants visit the River Revitalization Foundation’s Wheelhouse property and hear about their restoration efforts and work to grant public access to the River.

In the afternoon, we visited the OWLT’s Forest Beach Migratory Preserve — a unique 116-acre site that was previously used as a golf course. The land trust is transforming the property into a major migratory bird stopover site and using GLRI funding to research bird and bat migratory patterns to determine the importance of stopover habitat along the Lake Michigan Migratory Flyway.  During the afternoon session, we heard from representatives from OWLT, the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory, and Ozaukee County.

Bill Mueller of the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory speak to tour participants at Ozaukee Washington Land Trust’s Forest Beach Migratory Preserve.

Tour participants enjoy a hike through the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve.

Tour attendees included community leaders from the Milwaukee and Ozaukee area; government officials from WI DNR and the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program; the Policy Director for the Healing Our Waters Coalition, Chad Lord; and many others.  In total, more than 60 people joined us for the day.  We were thrilled that Congresswoman Gwen Moore and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele agreed to participate in the tour and provide remarks, as they have both been long-time supporters of Great Lakes restoration.  Unfortunately, at the last minute, they both needed to attend the memorial service for the victims of the tragic Oak Creek shooting.  We missed them at the event, but appreciate their commitment to Great Lakes issues.

It was a great day, and we lucked out with near perfect weather!

Restoring the Great Lakes: River Revitalization Foundation’s Wheelhouse Property

This post is the second in a series that details the innovative Wisconsin conservation projects that are having a positive impact on Great Lakes water quality and that will be featured on our August 10th Great Lakes Restoration Tour.  (The first post can be read here.) The tour is open to the public.  For full event details and to register please visit our website

In late 2009, after eight years of negotiation, the River Revitalization Foundation (RRF), Milwaukee’s urban rivers land trust, purchased the 2.8 acre Wheelhouse property – a developed site along the Milwaukee River on the east side of the city that included the abandoned, former Wheelhouse restaurant.  Since then, the restaurant has been torn down and RRF has been working hard to restore the once blighted urban riverfront to preserved green space and increase shoreline stabilization and floodplain protection.  The restoration of this site will ultimately contribute to a decrease in urban runoff into the Milwaukee River, only a mile from where it flows into Lake Michigan.

In addition to the benefits of shoreline restoration, the site’s 642 feet of River frontage links to the Milwaukee River Greenway and offers public open space and recreational opportunities.  The site is connected to the Beerline Trail (also a project of RRF), a segment of Milwaukee County Parks’ Oak Leaf Trail System located on an abandoned railroad line formerly known as the “Beerline,” and provides bike commuters with access to downtown.  The site also provides public access to the River for low-impact recreational activities like fishing and canoeing with the recent construction of the Kiwanis Boat Landing.

RRF received a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Stewardship grant award in the amount of $700,000 for the acquisition. An additional $400,000 easement purchase through the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District’s Greenseams program is a partial match to the DNR grant.

Please make plans to join us for the Great Lakes Restoration Tour on August 10th and visit this, and other significant Milwaukee-area sites, that are enhancing Great Lakes restoration efforts.


Tour land trust-protected sites that are improving Great Lakes water quality

Not only are we fortunate as Wisconsinites to have access to two of the Great Lakes, but we also bear the responsibility of ensuring their long-term health and viability as a valuable natural resource.  Land trusts play a significant role in the protection of the Great Lakes through the preservation and restoration of adjacent lands.

On August 10th, Gathering Waters Conservancy is teaming up with our partners at the Healing Our Waters Coalition, the Urban Ecology Center, the River Revitalization Foundation, and Ozaukee Washington Land Trust to host a tour of innovative conservation projects in the Milwaukee area that highlight progress, as well as ongoing needs and opportunities, in Great Lakes protection and restoration, with a particular focus on the economic and ecological benefits of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

A view of urban land conservation along the Milwaukee River — a mile from downtown Milwaukee — which flows into Lake Michigan.

Attendees will have the opportunity to hear from land trust, elected, civic, and agency leaders who are at the center of the effort to restore the Great Lakes through Milwaukee-area land protection.

More information about the event and the three sites we’ll tour can be found on our website:

The day-long tour is open to the public.  Transportation between sites and lunch will be provided.  We hope you make plans to join us!

RSVP on-line by August 6th.

And the winners are…

It’s our pleasure to announce the 2012 Land Conservation Leadership Award winners.  Thanks to the nominators and the Awards Selection Committee, the winners demonstrate the diversity of conservation success and effort across Wisconsin and inspire us all to continue protecting the places that make Wisconsin special.  Congratulations to all the winners:

Land Trust of the YearRiver Revitalization Foundation, Milwaukee’s urban rivers land trust since 1994,  has increased public access to Milwaukee’s rivers and enhanced the quality of life for residents and visitors alike. Its partnerships throughout the community provide opportunities for immersion into the natural world, educate about conservation in an urban setting, and illustrate the synergy between land conservation and urban development.   

Policy Maker of the Year – John Koepke, a member of the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection board, as well as the Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement Council, has championed efforts to promote and defend the Wisconsin Working Lands Initiative.  His committed actions and voice as a farmer from Oconomowoc have proved invaluable to farmland protection in Wisconsin.

Rod Nilsestuen Award for Working Lands Preservation – Dale Katsma, Department of Natural Resources Area Wildlife Supervisor in Plymouth, has spent the last decade quietly and successfully pioneering working lands preservation. His patient and persistent efforts to build relationships and trust between the DNR, landowners, and other conservation groups have played a pivotal role in the protection of 1,887 acres of farmland and 684 acres of wildlife habitat & natural areas in southeastern Wisconsin.

Conservationist of the Year – Ellen Kwiatkowski, the Executive Director of Bayfield Regional Conservancy, a valuable asset to the state’s PACE Council, chair of Wisconsin’s Land Trust Council, and co-owner of an easement-protected farm, has been an essential player in the permanent protection of over 1000 acres of land throughout northern Wisconsin and in successfully leading BRC through the national land trust accreditation process.

Harold “Bud” Jordahl Land Trust Pioneer AwardThe Ridges Sanctuary celebrates its 75th anniversary this year and was the first land trust in Wisconsin. Inspiring stewardship of natural areas through educational programs, outreach and research, The Ridges can undoubtedly be credited for positively impacting the history of land conservation throughout the state and laying groundwork for future conservation efforts throughout the Door Peninsula and beyond.

Please join us as we honor these deserving conservation leaders at our 10th annual Land Conservation Leadership Awards Celebration from 5:30 to 8:30 on Thursday, October 4th at the Monona Terrace in Madison.


Another Great Year for the Land Legacy Gathering!

Each year, the Land Legacy Gathering is our opportunity to honor the people who make it possible for us to continue Wisconsin’s incredible land legacy and help preserve the places that make Wisconsin special. This year was no different. For our 5th annual Gathering, we partnered with the River Revitalization Foundation and the Land Trust Alliance and met in Milwaukee to celebrate the fruits of what partnerships at the local, state, and national level can accomplish.

The 5th annual Gathering consisted of a tour of land that was conserved through great partnerships; the Beerline Trail and Wheelhouse property. A huge congratulations to the River Revitalization Foundation on this preserve! The hike began with a guided tour of the Wheelhouse Property, which was purchased and removed by the River Revitalization Foundation to make way for a park and to connect the Beerline Trail and the Oak Leaf Trail together.

Tour of the Wheelhouse Property

Hikers also witnessed the ribbon cutting of the newly completed Kiwanis Landing which provides improved access to the Milwaukee River.

Ribbon cutting at the Kiwanis Landing

For the last part of the afternoon, hikers were taken on a guided tour of the Beerline Trail. The tour provided scenic views of downtown as well as of the Milwaukee River.

Tour of the Beerline Trail

After the hike, attendees gathered at The Hamilton for the reception, where good, local, sustainable food was enjoyed thanks to Braise. Great speeches were also given by our sponsors and our partners this year. Thank you to everyone who braved the cold and came out to the 5th annual Gathering and helped us celebrate all of the wonderful conservation work happening in Wisconsin!

Reception speeches at The Hamilton

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