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Introducing Harlie Pingel! Harlie is Groundswell’s new Social Media Intern. She’s an avid Youth Volunteer for Conservation with Dane County Parks and will be a senior at Waunakee High School this fall.  Harlie is passionate about conservation and hopes to pursue a career in environmental protection.

“Through this internship, I’m hoping to gain more environmental experience and direction for college. I’m excited to learn all the aspects of conservation and apply them to my interests in the future,” she says.

Harlie will be creating content for our Facebook and Instagram pages while Liz, our Development & Outreach Coordinator, is on parental leave this summer. Be sure to follow us on social media if you don’t already!

We’ve got some great posts planned for the season. Harlie will join other Groundswell staff and supporters out on the land, sharing stories from special places around Dane County. She’ll also continue the tradition of sharing cool nature facts. For example, did you know that robber flies mimic bees to avoid predators?


Robber fly (left) mimics a bumble bee (right). Photo credits: Mary Binkley

We’re so excited to have Harlie be part of the Groundswell team this summer. You can get in touch with her on social media or at until September. Thanks for helping us welcome her!

It’s officially summer!  I’m not sure about you, but it’s been feeling like summer for the last month and a half at least.  I’ve talked with quite a few people who have all mentioned that they feel like they missed out on spring, and not for lack of being outside.  I have to agree with them, especially on those 95F days when I’m longing for a nice cool spring morning.

Although it’s been very hot and occasionally buggy, it’s truly a wonderful time to be outside, so let’s take a minute or two to see what’s going on.

Ebony jewelwing

I went on a camping trip last weekend with my family to hang out with a good friend who was stopping by from out of state.  We visited Roche-A-Cri State Park in Friendship, Wisconsin.  Seemed like an appropriate town name given the purpose of the trip.

While there, we were struck (not literally) by these iridescent damselflies with dark black wings.  The contrast between bright/shiny and black was mesmerizing!  I was so excited to try and get some photos so that I could identify them later.  Then, my wife Carolyn pops up seemingly out of nowhere and says “Oh, nice! Jewelwings!”  She’s good at that.  Regardless, I looked up ‘Ebony Jewelwing’ when I got home and found THIS cool video describing their mating display.  The video is slowed down so you can see them better.

Hairy puccoon

While walking through a prairie at Roche-A-Cri State Park, I came across a type of puccoon that I had never seen before.  It’s called hairy puccoon and it’s native to very dry and sandy habitats.  The burst of yellow caught our attention immediately.  We were able to scan the entire prairie and see where all of the pockets of hairy puccoon were hiding, even from quite a distance away.

American toad with some nice camouflage

Within minutes of arriving at our campsite, we found several toads hopping around in the dried pine needles and oak leaves.  They are surprisingly noisy when hopping around if you find yourself in a quiet enough place.  The tricky part is finding them if they are still because of how well they camouflage into their surroundings (see photo above).

One of my favorite things to do when I was a kid was catching all sorts of frogs and toads wherever I went.  I was happy to see my 5 year old do the same throughout the camp trip (no toads were harmed during this camp trip and all were released very quickly).


Baby snapping turtle that was crossing the road

If you find yourself travelling to a new green space like I did last weekend (or really anywhere), this is just a friendly reminder that many critters out there this time of year have young and to be careful when driving.  Just in the last week or two I’ve seen baby raccoons, opossums, sandhill cranes, and turtles (like the baby snapping turtle seen in the photo above) crossing the road.

If you see a turtle crossing the road, I encourage you to slow down and help out if you can, but only if the area is safe.  When helping a turtle, always put it on the side of the road in the direction it was heading (even if the pond is on the other side).  They’re determined little things and will turn right back around.

Well, I hope you enjoyed my virtual tour of nature as it’s happening.  However you experience the outdoors or nature, be it physical, virtual, spiritual, or anything in between, I encourage you to do it!

See you next month!

Groundswell is growing and that means we need more support! We’re hiring a half-time Administrative Assistant. This is an exciting opportunity to join a successful nonprofit and help protect special places forever where diverse people and communities can thrive.

The Administrative Assistant plays an important role in the success of Groundswell. This person works as part of our team of seven staff members, making sure our events run smoothly, bills are paid on time, and donors, volunteers, and board members have positive and meaningful experiences. As with all staff at Groundswell, the administrative assistant will help build lasting relationships with people and partners that enable us to create a world where everyone can enjoy nature and equitable access to land.

This is a half-time (20 hours/week), salaried position with paid benefits including health and dental insurance, annual and sick leave, and retirement.

Check out the full job description to learn more and for directions on how to apply. Applications are due by Friday, July 22, 2022.

I’m not sure how much time you’ve been spending outside lately, but I’m fortunate enough this time of year to be outside almost more than I am inside.  It’s that beautiful time of year when the mornings are cool, the daily high temperatures are still very comfortable, and the mosquitos seem to be minding their own business (at least in my neck of the woods).

As I look through my cameral roll in search of photos to share with you, I find it increasingly difficult to choose because so much is going on!  We’re past the part where nature slowly wakes up from a long winter.  We’re in full swing!  So let’s get outside and see what’s happening.

Wild Columbine is flowering

Right now, the woodlands are absolutely covered in flowering plants.  Around every corner of a trail you could run into flowering wild columbine, mayapple, white trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit, and wild geranium just to name a few.

Wild columbine is one of my favorites.  Both the flowers and leaves are beautiful, but what I like most is the odd places I find this wonderful plant.  I went hiking at Governor Dodge this weekend with my family and we saw wild columbine growing on the sides of rock faces and even near the waterfall that’s out there.

Devil’s urn…

If fungi are more your thing, then say no more!  Look around the base of trees or close to the leaf litter and you’ll find all sorts of fungi growing in almost every color.  While out with my family, I stumbled upon one of the most ominous-looking mushrooms I’ve ever seen.

At first, I didn’t know what it was.  It honestly looked like a piece of rubber from a tire but when I touched it, it had that classic fragile mushroom texture that’s hard to describe.  I looked it up later and it’s called ‘Devil’s Urn’.  A very fitting name for this scary-looking mushroom!

Wild lupine flowering

If you find yourself out near a dry prairie or an oak savanna, now is the time of year to be on the lookout for blooming wild lupine.  This beautifully blueish-purple plant serves as a host for the endangered Karner blue butterfly.  The caterpillars feed exclusively on the leaves of wild lupine and the species simply would not survive without the plant.

Killdeer chick!

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this photo of a baby Killdeer that I moved off of a trail that I was mowing at Westport Prairie. It was reunited with its mother in a safer spot nearby.  If you have ever accidentally gotten close to a Killdeer nest or chicks, you may have seen the adult trying to lure you away.  Check out THIS video of their ‘broken wing display’.

Holding this bird, even for just a few seconds, reminded me of a job I had years ago at a National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey.  I was a wildlife technician where I got to band Piping Plovers on beaches.  While not the same species, this was a nice reminder of my time working with plovers.  Well, I hope you enjoyed my virtual tour of nature as it’s happening.  However you experience the outdoors or nature, be it physical, virtual, spiritual, or anything in between, I encourage you to do it!

See you next month!

The Linden Cohousing Farmers Market is back and better than ever! The market opens today, May 26, and will run through September 22, 2022. It will be open every Thursday from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. at the Linden Cohousing parking lot (located at 2082 Winnebago Street).

This year the market is expanding to include more producers of color and a food cart!

The farmers market was created to be inclusive and accessible to small farm businesses that were facing barriers. As we coordinate with new small producers operating out of the FEED Kitchen, customers will see different vendors throughout the season selling items like fresh egg rolls and homemade salsa.

Thank you to our sponsor TASC for supporting the market again this year!

Black Earth Creek is a treasure that starts near Middleton, where cold clear spring water bubbles freely from the earth. The creek winds and bends countless times on a journey to the Wisconsin River. It’s considered one of the 100 best trout streams in the nation by Trout Unlimited.

The creek is as fragile as it is precious. It’s threatened by runoff, development, and pollution. Groundswell is working with landowners and supporters to protect the stream. We recently completed three important conservation projects on the creek, and each represents a major accomplishment. Collectively, they add an important layer of protection to the Black Earth Creek watershed while providing new opportunities for the public to connect with nature.

In December, we purchased 38 acres along Black Earth Creek that includes ¾ of a mile of shoreline. The property is adjacent to land owned by the Department of Natural Resources as part of the Black Earth Creek Fishery Area. The landowners have been good stewards of the property and when they decided to sell, we were ready. Groundswell will own and manage this property as part of the public conservation lands along the creek.

Photo credit: Sue Ann Schwanke

In March, we purchased a 93-acre agricultural easement on the south side of Black Earth Creek. The farmland property is next to a stream bank easement held by the DNR along 3,000 feet of creek. The easement keeps the rich soil available for farming. It prevents development that could force large amounts of sediment-laden water into the creek. It also limits construction of impervious surfaces to a one-acre portion of the farm. This allows precipitation to continue to seep into the ground and keeps the watershed healthy.

In late December, we helped the Village of Black Earth acquire one acre of land to provide a new spot for canoeists and kayakers to get into the creek. The property was owned by David Cooper, a long-time resident. David’s house and garage were heavily damaged in the huge flood of August 2018. David had let Black Earth Administrator Shellie Benish know that he thought his land would make a great park, and Shellie agreed. The property is next to land owned by the DNR as part of the Black Earth Creek Fishery Area. It includes 120 feet of shoreline on the creek. This winter we donated the land to the Village. The Village will take on the work of removing the buildings and turning the land into a park, complete with creek access. “It’s a story of how people working together can make nature more accessible. It’s also great news for paddling enthusiasts!”

These projects only happened because of the generosity of conservation-minded landowners, partners, and supporters. Funders included the Dane County Conservation Fund, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, and Groundswell supporters including the Norm Anderson Conservation Opportunities Fund.

Groundswell has a long commitment to this watershed. These latest projects build on a long history of conservation success. Over the last two decades, Groundswell supporters helped protect more than a thousand acres (more than 900 football fields!) of farmland, wetlands, stream corridors, and hiking trails in the beautiful and significant Black Earth Creek valley.

To read more stories from our Spring 2022 Newsletter, click here.

I’m excited to join Groundswell Conservancy as its new executive director! Before joining the team, I spent decades helping to protect the environment and working with underrepresented communities with groups like Wisconsin Conservation Voters. I’m a hiker, biker, paddler, and I love getting out in nature. I’m also a storyteller. To introduce myself, I thought I’d share the story of the week leading up to my first day with Groundswell. It goes like this…

It was late February, and there was a chill in the air. I was feeling overjoyed after landing an amazing job. Unfortunately, as with all lucky streaks, the universe decided to strike back. You’ve been there, I’m sure. First, my computer broke down. Then my collie Rose developed a stomach bug. Last but not least, my car stalled in the drive-up lane at the local Walgreens. “Why me?” I remembered thinking, only to be met by the harsh, cold stare of my darkened dashboard. What could I do? I turned towards the intercom to let the pharmacist know that my car decided it needed a rest. That’s when I noticed them – two tiny snowflakes on the driver’s side window. Just before they melted, I took in their lacy, intricate designs and thought “no two snowflakes are identical”. It was something I’d known…well…forever, but at that moment, I was filled with awe. Suddenly, my horrible week seemed pretty insignificant. Nature in all its wonder and diversity had come to the rescue and put everything in perspective.

Now it’s spring, and, if we’re lucky, the snowflakes are fewer and far between in Wisconsin. The cranes and robins are nesting, and
the prairies, farms, and wetlands we love so much are reborn. Yes. There are challenges ahead: overdevelopment, pollution, food insecurity, inequitable access to the land, and the greatest of all – climate change. But I’m an optimist. I know what engaged and empowered people can achieve. And I know that our Groundswell community is strong and diverse. I also know how committed we are to protecting the land forever and for everyone, and that fills me with hope. Finally, I know that, in a world where billions upon billions of snowflakes have fallen and no two have ever been alike, anything is possible. I can’t wait to meet you and get started!

To read more stories from our Spring 2022 Newsletter, click here.

This spring, enjoy better access to Westport Prairie! This year, Groundswell put in a new parking area, created better signage, added two new mowed trails, and will remove the locked gate at the driveway entrance. We also hired Operation Fresh Start to renovate the inside of the tobacco barn. Now one section of the barn will host events and the other side will store crucial land restoration equipment. You’ll also find a new sign at the entrance which identifies Westport Prairie.

This work was made possible thanks to Karl Gutknecht and Susan Hunt, James E. Dutton Foundation, and Oberweiler Foundation.

Join us to celebrate better access on Friday, May 20, 2022. Click here for more details and to sign up.

To read more stories from our Spring 2022 Newsletter, click here.

We’re excited to share the news that Groundswell Conservancy secured funding from Madison Community Foundation to help diversify the conservation field. The Conservation Academy (originally called the Conservation Graduate Crew) helps outdoors-minded young adults learn crucial job skills to help them pursue careers in the conservation field. This program was jointly developed by Groundswell Conservancy and Operation Fresh Start (OFS). It’s modeled after the successful OFS program that prepares young adults for careers in construction.

The $45,000 grant from the Madison Community Foundation will cover the cost of professional certifications for crew members over the next three years. This includes training in chainsaw safety, pesticide application, prescribed fire, and emergency response protocols.

Tom Linfield, Vice President of Community Impact at Madison Community Foundation (MCF), says the effort will broaden the field of conservation to include traditionally underrepresented groups. “MCF is proud to support this important work to reduce barriers that young people and people of color face in getting jobs as land managers and ecological technicians,” he says. MCF recently featured this new program in their spring newsletter.

Kaden Fischer of Madison is a Conservation Academy participant who is eyeing a career as a park ranger. “It’s a chance to work hard outside and make money at the same time,” says Fischer, 19. “Just getting this much exercise is awesome.”

Cory Rich, Operation Fresh Start Conservation and Construction Manager, says partners like Groundswell are excited to work with OFS since 80 percent of program participants are people of color and 73 percent are from low-income backgrounds.

“These crews are bringing some badly needed diversity to the conservation field,” he says. But it’s no picnic. Shifts are long, with crew members putting in 10-hour days, four days a week and then getting 3-day weekends. Timeliness and enthusiasm for the job are demanded.

“We make sure they know if you want to make this a career, it’s going to involve a lot of hard work,” says Caroline Zimmerman, conservation crew supervisor for OFS.

The first Conservation Academy Crew began work this past fall in partnership with the Wisconsin DNR, City of Madison Engineering, Dane County Parks, UW Arboretum, the Nature Conservancy, and Groundswell Conservancy to complete important conservation projects at local parks, trails and natural areas.

What an odd spring we’ve been having lately!  While the snow appears to be in our rearview mirror, the cold seems to be sticking around. Mix that with all of the rain and high winds, it almost seems like Mother Nature is toying with us and tossing in a 70-80F day every once in a while just to keep us interested.

What I’ve learned is that you need to make the best of what you have.  My son for example was playing in our backyard sprinkler last week and if that’s not a glass half full, I’m not sure what is.  While it may not exactly be sprinkler weather, there’s plenty of exciting things to see outside this month.

The pelicans are back!  This cold wet spring hasn’t stopped migratory birds from making their journey back to Wisconsin.  Head out to just about any natural area and you’ll hear and see tons of birds that weren’t here a month ago.  I was out at Patrick Marsh a couple of days ago to see if the pelicans had arrived and while they were in small numbers, I was happy to see they were back.

Not only that, my son and I were able to watch them hunt for fish.  If you’ve never seen pelicans do this, it’s quite a sight!  They all swim alongside one another and then form a quick circle and dunk their heads under water to scoop up fish.  It reminds me of synchronized swimmers!  Check out this short VIDEO to see what I mean.

Prairie willow

It’s not just the birds that are back.  Plants are starting to show signs of life as well!  Just walking through my neighborhood I’m beginning to see some of the earlier spring flowers popping up like crocuses, daffodils, tulips, and peonies.

While out at Westport Prairie last week, I noticed that prairie willows are even starting to show off their fuzzy catkins.  I’m sure you have seen willow catkins in this stage before, but have you noticed what they look like up close when flowering?  Take a look at the photo below to see a much further along pussy willow beginning to flower.

Pussy willow flowering

Here you can see the process unfolding all on one stem.  At the bottom of the plant are the recognizable fuzzy catkins, and as you move up the stem, it’s much easier to see how it changes its form.  The yellow you see is pollen and this pollen doesn’t spread via the wind.  Instead, willows rely on insects for pollination.  Yet another reason to save the bees!

Pasque flowers looking their best

We’re nearing the end of the pasque flower season, but since spring has been pushed further back this year, it’s still possible to get out there and see them before they’re gone for the year.  The petals open and close depending on the amount of sunlight available.  If you head out on a cloudy day, there’s a good chance that most of the flowers will be closed, but head out on a sunny day and they should look like the photo above.

Well, I hope you enjoyed my virtual tour of nature as it’s happening.  However you experience the outdoors or nature, be it physical, virtual, spiritual, or anything in between, I encourage you to do it!

See you next month!