Archived entries for The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program

20 Years Strong

Can you believe it? We’ve been strengthening Wisconsin’s land trusts for 20 years now! That’s right, it’s our 20th Anniversary.  We can’t think of a better time to reflect upon how we arrived at where we are today and the successes we’ve had along the way….

Here is a snapshot of some of the achievements we are most proud of, since our founding in 1994:

We wouldn't be where we are today without your support - thank you!!

Thank you, from all of us at GWC, for supporting us as well as the land trusts that we serve! None of this would have been possible without your support.

  • The number of land trusts working in Wisconsin has increased from 12 to over 50
  • The membership of Wisconsin’s land trusts has grown to nearly 55,000 members statewide
  • These land trusts have permanently protected well over 280,000 acres of Wisconsin’s natural heritage
  • We have become a respected voice for private land conservation in the state and have earned our reputation as the premier land trust service center in the nation


    Together we protect special places, where youth discover the magic of the outdoors for the first time.

But more meaningful is the resulting impact of those acres conserved, organizations and collaborations established, and contacts made. Together with our land trust members, partners, and supporters, we are helping to protect the special places where we can all go to exercise and recreate, that protect our local food base and agricultural economy, where youth are discovering the magic of the outdoors for the first time, and that are home to our most precious resources and threatened species.


Together we protect our local food base and agricultural economy.

Thank you, from all of us at GWC, for supporting us and the land trusts that we serve! None of this would have been possible without your support. But our work is not finished. Please consider becoming a monthly donor, to help ensure that you and your loved ones will always be able to enjoy all the benefits of Wisconsin’s outdoors.

2014: An Exciting, New Year

Hopefully your 2014 is off to an excellent start…. We at Gathering Waters are definitely looking forward to all that this new year has to offer— we’re launching our new and improved three-year strategic plan and it’s our 20th anniversary!

Here’s an overview of the great things we have planned this year:

In the public policy & advocacy arena:

  • Education, education, education! With the state budget coming up a year from now and the Gubernatorial election set for this fall, we’ll be working hard to make sure legislators know exactly how important it is that the Knowles Nelson Stewardship Program remains strong and that the Gubernatorial candidates are keenly aware of the important role land conservation and land trusts play in their communities.
  • Partnerships. The Healing Our Waters – Great Lakes Coalition  is accomplishing such great things, we’ll definitely continue working with them to ensure that local, state and federal officials continue to make Great Lakes restoration a priority.
14 Lulu Lake

We’ll be working hard to ensure the best interests of our land trusts are being represented in the political arena.

Providing direct services & technical assistance:

  • Staying true. True to our core objective that is- to strengthen Wisconsin’s land trusts, ensuring that they have the resources, tools, and know-how to meet community needs and protect the places that make Wisconsin so special.
  • More partnerships. We will we bring land trusts together to create efficiencies through shared staff, pooled resources, and joint funding opportunities. We’ll also continue our work with the Lake Michigan Shorelands Alliance to help identify, protect, restore and manage lands that protect the water quality, wildlife habitats, and the scenic integrity of Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan Basin.
  • Retreat! Our annual Land Trust Retreat this October will offer an unparalleled opportunity for learning, networking, and fun among land trust peers and conservation experts from around the state.
Topic Tables 1

We’ll be doing all we can to ensure our land trusts have what they need, to meet community needs and protect the places that make Wisconsin special.

Spreading the good word:

  • Turn up the volume. You may not realize the extent of the value your local land trust brings to you and your loved ones. We’re going to do a better job of making sure you know.
  • Put it in writing. This fall, in honor of the twenty years we have been working to strengthen land trusts, we will be publishing a collection of stories, highlighting the many ways land trusts benefit Wisconsin’s collective health, economy and education.
  • Let’s Party! Our annual Land Conservation Leadership Awards Celebration is happening September 26th. It’s definitely the place to be if you’re interested in Wisconsin land conservation. And on May 3rd, we’ll be honoring you and others who make it possible for us to continue Wisconsin’s incredible land legacy, at our annual Land Legacy Gathering. Better save the dates and grab your party shoes.
Table Bluff - July by Kate

We’ll be spreading the word of our land trusts’ successes and of the countless opportunities and benefits they provide.

As you can see, it’s going to be an incredible, busy year.  We’re looking forward to it and appreciate all of the feedback and help we can get. Feel free to shoot us an email with your thoughts or support the work we’re doing with a tax-deductible gift.  Cheers, to this wonderful new year!

Stories of Stewardship: A Sportsman on Stewardship

“Stories of Stewardship” is a special blog series that tells the stories of Wisconsin citizens whose lives and communities have benefited from the land conservation made possible through the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program- a program so valuable, we at Gathering Waters work hard to ensure it remains well funded.

The following story was written by Jim Evrard, of Burnett County:

As a retired DNR wildlife biologist and an active volunteer in several conservation groups, I’ve been involved in public land acquisition in Wisconsin for nearly 40 years. When I started with the DNR, most of our acquisition money for wildlife management lands came from a tax charged on arms and ammunition. When Gaylord Nelson was governor, he created the Outdoor Recreation Act Program (ORAP), providing funds for recreational land acquisition by imposing a penny per pack tax on cigarettes. That program has evolved into the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program we know today.

crex staff 3

Now the lakeshore is completely owned by the public and should remain wild forever.

Many tracts of land near my home in Northwestern Wisconsin were bought with Stewardship funds, but a recent acquisition is my favorite. Some years ago, a key tract of land on the northwest corner of the Crex Meadows Wildlife Area was put up for sale. The 170-acre tract was an old farm with idle agricultural fields, a young red pine plantation and the northern half of a small prairie lake. A local attorney bought the land, and when he died, his widow inherited the old farm.

The south shore of the lake had been owned by the DNR for years, and it was home to nesting waterfowl, loons, and even a pair of osprey. It was feared that when the land on the northern side was sold, summer residences would be built and the wildlife use of the wetland would decrease drastically. But these fears were never realized due to good land stewardship by the former owners. The only change made to the land was a duck hunting blind used by the family on the northern edge of the lake. The widow’s son-in-law is conservation-minded, and he suggested that she sell the land to the DNR so that it would be included in the Crex Meadows project. Now the lakeshore is completely owned by the public and should remain wild forever.

crex birds in flight -- crex staff

Through the years, I’ve watched wildlife on the lake and surrounding grasslands.

In addition to the Stewardship Program, the Friends of Crex and the Sharp-tailed Grouse Society contributed funds to purchase the land, but the Stewardship Program was the catalyst that put together the partnership needed to buy the property. This partnership between a public agency and private conservation groups is a good example of  cooperation between the government and its citizens. This spirit of cooperation continues in other projects including habitat management and recreational development.

As a retired person on a pension, I can’t afford to own land for hunting and other outdoor recreation. Land values have skyrocketed to a point where only wealthy persons can afford to buy and own extensive tracts of land or lakeshore. The rest of us increasingly depend upon public property for our outdoor recreation needs. Through the
years, I’ve watched wildlife on the lake and surrounding grasslands. I’ve hunted deer and wild turkeys on the edges of the property since the DNR acquired the land, and I’m looking forward to hunting ducks on the lake. Thanks to the Stewardship Program, I should be able to continue my recreational use of the property for many years in the future.

The Crex Meadows Wildlife Area near Grantsburg, in Burnett County, encompasses over 30,000 acres of wetland, woodland, and restored brush prairie. The area has been publicly protected since 1946, with Stewardship funding continuing to support its growth, preservation and maintenance. Crex Meadows is known for its hunting, hiking and wildlife observation opportunities.

A New Piece of the Puzzle in Green Bay

The Baird Creek Parkway continues to grow by leaps and bounds, most recently because of a 34-acre acquisition on the eastern edge of the park within the city of Green Bay. For folks living in the city, this is a big deal — the Parkway provides access for fishing, a place to hike and bike, solitude from the day, economic value to the community, safe places for kids to play and learn, and natural beauty for all to enjoy.

Since 1997, the Baird Creek Preservation Foundation has been focused on connecting and enhancing this terrific place for Green Bay and the surrounding area. Now, “We’re close to becoming contiguous,” notes Charlie Frisk, president of the Baird Creek Preservation Foundation.

“The goal is to have it from Danz Avenue to Grandview Road, and it’s going to happen in the next 10 years. It’s going to be huge. Then, a hiker can go starting at one end and he’s looking at a good four- to five-hour hike, because the trails are far from straight.”

This latest parcel was acquired through a partnership with the City of Green Bay and using Knowles Nelson Stewardship Program funding. There’s already a trail that runs half the property, as well as mature woods and interesting topographies, with slopes up and down along abandoned stream channels.

“This property puts us almost all the way out to the city limits,” Frisk adds, “It’s exciting.”

The Foundation acquires land as it becomes available in an urban setting, meaning conversion of the property to parkland has been piecemeal, with gaps of privately-owned land interrupting the preserved property. But, little by little the Foundation has been working to close those gaps and complete the puzzle. And, that’s exciting news for those who love having nature in their backyards.

Recently, the Green Bay Press Gazette published a story about this project and you can find a map of the parcel and details about hiking it at the Baird Creek Preservation Foundation’s website.

At Gathering Waters, we work to support land trusts like Baird Creek by advocating for the Stewardship program, an essential tool for land trust projects like this one. And, this fall, provided the Foundation with a grant to assist them with becoming more sustainable in perpetuity. 


It Starts With YOU: Our Thanks to George Varnum

As we enter the season of giving we’re touched by the many ways that individuals have cared for the land. Indeed, we’re grateful that so many participate in this work with us — Land conservation starts with YOU.

As is the case with the recently celebrated George Varnum, a landowner who has worked to protect his land for decades, it starts from the ground-level.  Back in the 1990s, Varnum began the process of documenting all the unique plant species on the 61-acre property near his home. He started to reach out to the community in 1997 about this special piece of prairie and this led to efforts by the Mississippi Valley Conservancy to preserve the property.

Thanks to George Varnum for playing a key role in protecting such a special place in his community. Photo by Dave Skoloda.

Thanks to George Varnum for playing a key role in protecting this special place in his community. Photo by Dave Skoloda.

Today the town of Holland owns the property and Mississippi Valley Conservancy holds a conservation easement on it, meaning it will stay as it stands today for future generations. Now and forever, the prairie is open for the public to enjoy.

Holland Sand Prairie

Holland Sand Prairie

Varnum recently received a plaque for his role in prairie preservation. The plaque says Varnum, “helped care for the property. Mississippi Valley Conservancy and the Friends of the Holland Sand Prairie share in thanking George for the important role he played on behalf of the prairie and its hundreds of species and the people who now enjoy them in any season, forever preserved.”

We’re grateful for community leaders like George Varnum who take notice of critical habitats for wildlife and plants, develop partnerships, and assist in preserving these places for future generations to enjoy.

Outdoor Recreation Creates Jobs and Supports Local Communities

With so much focus on jobs and the economy right now, one bright spot is the outdoor recreation industry.  Nationwide, Americans spend $646 billion on outdoor recreation, according to a new study by the Outdoor Industry Association.  Here in Wisconsin, outdoor recreation generates $11.9 billion in consumer spending; 142,000 direct Wisconsin jobs equaling $3.6 billion in wages and salaries, and $844 million in state and local tax revenue.

Wisconsin’s 50 land trusts help to support this burgeoning part of the economy by working with communities to provide the places and the amenities for people to connect with the outdoors.  One great example is the Ice Age Trail Alliance.  In 2012, the Ice Age Trail Alliance together with the Wisconsin Department of Tourism and other partners undertook a survey of Ice Age Trail users and businesses along the trail.  Researchers determined that the Ice Age Trail draws an estimated 1.2 million visitors every year, and Trail users contribute approximately $113 million annually to statewide and local economies.  The full report can be found here.

Hikers along the Ice Age Trail

Special places, like the one shown here along the Ice Age Trail, draw thousands of visitors each year, contributing to local economies and providing the high quality of life that we’ve come to expect in Wisconsin.


The economic impact of land trusts’ work doesn’t stop with outdoor recreation.  Industries in Wisconsin such as the $22 billion forestry industry and $59 billion agriculture industry are also supported by land trusts as they help willing landowners protect working landscapes throughout the state.  For example, in early 2012, the Conservation Fund worked with Lyme Timber and the WI DNR to complete the largest working forest conservation easement in Wisconsin history, the Brule-St. Croix Legacy Forest.  This project, which leveraged funding from the state’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, will ensure that nearly 70,000 acres of timberland will remain in production, while providing public access for recreation, among other public benefits.

At Gathering Waters Conservancy, we recognize the many ways that land trusts help to support local communities and the economy, which is why we work so hard to make land trusts stronger organizations and to make sure that they have the tools and the public and private resources to accomplish their goals.

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.

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

New Opportunities for Recreation & Sustainable Forestry in Bayfield County

Folks in northern Wisconsin have new community forest in which to recreate and explore thanks to the work of Bayfield Regional Conservancy.

The Conservancy completed the purchase of a 400-acre forested property from Plum Creek Timber Co. in late December, and will convey the newly established community forest to the Town of Lincoln in late 2013 pending a majority vote by town residents to accept the gift.

This new community forest in will allow for public access for hunting, fishing, hiking, birding and other non-motorized uses, and it will also provide protection for two miles of Marengo River shoreline along a highly erodible section of the river, so that it remains pristine for fishing.

Bayfield Regional Conservancy became involved in the project after being alerted to the realty listing by a group of town residents who asked for help in preserving it.

In addition to offering public recreation, the property is intended to serve as an example of sustainable forestry and restoration. The Conservancy plans to hold field days in collaboration with other forest management organizations to further sustainable forestry tenets.  An additional management goal is to promote the prevalence of native tree species resistant to climate change, in order to ensure forest adaptability in response to climate change impacts expected for our region.

The land is largely forested, including a mosaic of forest types, and serves as habitat for state rare and endangered species, along with at least 145 species of birds. Other wildlife includes bear, deer, bobcat, fisher, American marten, grey wolf , wood turtle and more.

Already, a Friends of Lincoln Community Forest group has been formed to help with management of the property.  The Conservancy will participate in management of the property with a volunteer committee and promote school activities at the forest as well.

A Gathering Waters member, Bayfield Regional Conservancy is a non-profit land trust dedicated to preserving the places you love in northwestern Wisconsin.  Funds for the $673,000 purchase came from matching grants from the US Forest Service Community Forestry Program and the state of Wisconsin’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund administered by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.


Restoring the Great Lakes: Forest Beach Migratory Preserve

This post is the third 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 tour is open to the public.  For full event details and to register please visit our website

Before Ozaukee Washington Land Trust (OWLT) purchased the Squires’ property in 2009 with the support of Wisconsin’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, the 116-acre-site in Ozaukee County had been used as a golf course. Renamed the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve, the site is valuable due to its size and its proximity to Lake Michigan. Part of the property is on the Lake Michigan shore with the majority of the site located just 600 ft inland comprising one of the largest tracts of nearshore open land in Ozaukee County.


The property boasts a 5-acre hardwood forest with seasonal ponds, open grassland and prairie, a partially wooded ravine, and 5 constructed wetland ponds. Due to the property’s location and these characteristics, it is an important area for migratory birds along the Lake Michigan Flyway.  

Since the acquisition of the property, OWLT and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, with the support of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and other sources, have done a tremendous amount of work to restore wetlands and native plant communities. These changes will help to provide diverse habitats to a wide variety of migratory birds. These habitats will be the temporary stopping points for around 80 rare or declining bird species at some point in their lifecycle.

 Photos courtesy of Ozaukee Washington Land Trust

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.

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