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.”