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On Friday, August 5, 2022, the Town of Dunn and Groundswell Conservancy placed a permanent conservation easement on the Peterson Family centennial farm (see map link). This easement preserves valuable farmland by restricting development on the 133-acre property. A 300-foot wide vegetative buffer between the cropland and Hook Lake will protect water quality and provide wildlife habitat. The Lake encompasses Hook Lake Bog State Natural Area, a rare community in southern Wisconsin.

We thank landowners Lea Ann and Randall Heacox for their dedication to protecting this land. We also thank the Town of Dunn for their leadership on this project, and for their continued commitment to conservation through their Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program. Since 1997, Groundswell and the Town of Dunn have worked together to help protect nearly 4,000 acres of rich farmland.

Lea Ann’s great-grandparents, Rasmus and Minnie Peterson, bought the property in 1910. They passed it down through her grandfather Elmer Peterson to her mother Norraine Peterson Kvammen. According to Lea Ann, “The Town of Dunn’s PDR program was instrumental to keeping this farm in our family. We are very grateful.” Click here to see more photos of the farm taken by Mario Quintana, including a present day recreation of a circa 1950 aerial photo.

With this easement, this land will remain farmland forever, helping to protect productive topsoil—a precious limited resource—and to maintain farm-friendly communities in Dane County.

This project was made possible by the generosity of Lea Ann and Randall Heacox, the Dane County Conservation Fund, the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, Town of Dunn residents, and supporters of Groundswell like you.

On Wednesday, August 10, 2022 we purchased 40 acres of wetland habitat within the Lower Mud Lake Natural Resource Area in the Town of Dunn (see map link). Together with our recent acquisition and the Brost’s wetlands in 2020, we have now protected 143 acres within the Lower Mud Lake wetlands complex, historically an area of great importance to indigenous cultures in southern Dane County.

August is National Water Quality Month. Our cherished way of life depends on clean water: healthy ecosystems provide wildlife habitat and places to fish, paddle, and swim. This wetland habitat has been, and will continue to be, an invaluable resource which filters pollutants and improves water quality.

This acquisition came together thanks to the generosity of the landowner, supporters of Groundswell including Sean McBride, our Norm Anderson Conservation Opportunities Fund, the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Habitat Areas Grant Program, and North American Wetlands Conservation Act funding administered through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Ducks Unlimited.

We thank the landowners, who wish to remain anonymous, for their part in permanently protecting this land. I leave you with a bit of wisdom to contemplate, courtesy of the landowners.

Our family has a long-standing connection with this land and is committed to preserving and protecting it. Knowing now the benefits wetlands provide to our ecosystem and the intrinsic value of the indigenous culture, it’s crucial that we protect this priceless heritage.

On Tuesday, July 19, 2022 we purchased 34 acres of wetland habitat within the Lower Mud Lake Natural Resource Area in the Town of Dunn (see map link). Together with our acquisition of the Brost’s wetlands in 2020, we have protected 103 acres within the Lower Mud Lake wetlands complex.

Wetlands act like filtering sponges in our ecosystem. They temporarily hold back and then slowly release surges in rainfall to help manage flooding. We are glad to protect these critical wetlands just south of Madison.

We thank the landowners, Craig and Renae, for wanting to see this land protected. When their neighbors, Ken and Eileen Brost, sold their wetlands to Groundswell, it got them thinking. Like the Brosts, they understood the importance of conserving and caring for wetlands. They also realized they don’t have the ability to care for the wetlands. Groundswell will manage the property consistent with the adjacent state land to provide permanent habitat for ducks and other wildlife.

Funding to purchase the land came from Wisconsin DNR’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant administered by Ducks Unlimited. Of course, we couldn’t protect land without your support of Groundswell.

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.

Today we purchased an agricultural conservation easement over 93 acres of farmland. The farm is located on the south side of Black Earth Creek. It is adjacent to a streambank easement held by the DNR along 3,000 feet of the creek. Black Earth Creek remains a healthy trout stream thanks to a dependable supply of groundwater. The soil on the farm is among the most productive in the state and nation.

This easement prevents development of the farm and keeps the rich soil available for farming. Also, it limits the construction of impervious surfaces to a one-acre portion of the farm. Impervious surfaces prevent rain and snow from seeping into the ground. Instead, rain and snow is forced into the creek, carrying sediment with it.  So limiting the amount of pavement and rooftops is important to the long-term health of the creek.

We thank the conservation-minded landowners for their foresight about the future of farming. According to the landowners, “For the past 70 years, our family has farmed in the Black Earth Valley. We have enjoyed the beautiful area and the rich, fertile soil that has helped produce our crops. Working with Groundswell Conservancy provided us the opportunity to protect this farmland from the development pressures of Dane County and have it continue to produce food to feed our country and our world. ” The farm will remain in private ownership and on the property tax rolls.

Funding to purchase the agricultural conservation easement was provided by the Dane County Conservation Fund, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Groundswell’s Norm Anderson Conservation Opportunities Fund.

Thanks to the conservation vision of many landowners, this is the 17th land protection project Groundswell has completed in the valley since 2001.  Overall we have worked together to permanently protect 1,209 acres of farmland, wetlands, stream corridors, and hiking trails in the valley.

We are really happy to report that another wonderful piece of the Wisconsin River has been permanently protected.  This morning Nancy Heiden, a founder of Groundswell Conservancy and lifelong conservationist, generously donated a 13-acre parcel of land on the south side of the river to Groundswell.

Nancy said that she is delighted to donate the property.  “This donation has been a long time coming.  My family and I enjoyed the property for many years.  It was part of many wonderful adventures we had on the Wisconsin River.  I was one of the founders of Groundswell Conservancy back in 1983 when several conservationists came together to form the Dane County Natural Heritage Foundation.  This donation makes perfect sense for me.”

The property includes 800 feet of shoreline on the river.  It features a large “sand blow” which is a specialized wildlife habitat that occurs on unstable sandy areas.  While much of the property is now relatively lightly covered by oak and pine trees, aerial photos from the 1930s show that the property and the surrounding land used to be nearly treeless.

With Nancy’s permission, Groundswell will place a perpetual conservation easement on the property. The easement will limit development of the property. While the property has had buildings on it over the years, it is currently vacant.  The easement will limit development to a small house or cabin.  This structure will have to be located away from the river and out of the delicate “sand blow” habitat.  We will offer the restricted property for sale to a conservation-minded landowner later this year.  The proceeds from the sale will support our conservation work for years to come.

Our success stories are usually about preserving the conservation values of private land for future private or public users.  But thanks to a new collaboration by Groundswell and the Town of Perry on the southwest side of Dane County, the conservation values of a public property have just been protected forever.

About a year and a half ago, Roger Kittleson, the Chairman of the Town of Perry, sent Groundswell a letter asking if we would consider a conservation easement to protect a Town park.  The conservation easement was signed by the Town earlier this week, thanks to efforts by Doug King, CEO of The Madison Group Consultants, and Town Supervisor Mick Klein Kennedy.

The new conservation easement provides an extra layer of protection to a unique Town park. The Town of Perry created the 30-acre Hauge Historic District Park in 2001 around the privately owned, two-acre Hauge Log Church National Historic Site to protect the scenic view of the Blue Mounds and its peace and serenity from the effects of neighboring development.  It took the Town’s residents two decades of sustained effort to protect the park with a Historic Preservation Plan, a Historic District Ordinance, Dane County’s first Historic Overlay District, Wisconsin’s first Town level Historic District, a DNR deed restriction, a Dane County deed restriction, and protective provisions in the Town’s Land Use Plan.

But even with all of those protections in place, Town Supervisors and Town residents were concerned that the protections could still be undone, revised, or relaxed.  As Town Chairman Kittleson suggested in his proposal to Groundswell, “The park still needs to be permanently protected in perpetuity against ‘our future selves.’”

The unique property was approved by the Dane County Board as a Dane County Historical and Cultural Site in its 2018-2023 Dane County Parks and Open Space Plan.  The acquisition of the park land was made possible with strong public support from former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and former U.S. Ambassador to Norway Tom Loftus, and letters of encouragement from the King and Queen of Norway.

The park is the second highest public park observation point in Dane County, with several miles of mowed hiking trails and a spectacular view of the Blue Mounds.  It was voted “Best Place to Watch a Sunset in Dane County” by Madison Magazine.  It is open year round from sunrise to sunset.  A park brochure with visitor guide and hiking trail map can be downloaded here.

We are pleased and excited to have completed this public-private partnership to help protect a special and unique place of public land forever.

We’re happy to share the good news that yesterday we purchased 40 acres of land at Dell Creek Wildlife Area in Sauk County.

The land features 1,850 feet of Dell Creek and part of a tributary to the creek.  The bordering land includes wetlands as well as high ground with mixed oak forest.  DNR wildlife biologist Nancy Frost advocated for this purchase for years as it has been a gap in a large tract of DNR land at the Wildlife Area.  And a recent fish survey of Dell Creek confirms it as a good and improving trout stream.

This acquisition came together thanks to the generosity of the landowner, anglers, supporters of Groundswell including Sean McBride, our Norm Anderson Conservation Opportunities Fund, and the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

When a hoped-for grant to match the Stewardship Program funding didn’t come through, the anglers stepped up.   In less than a month the Aldo Leopold Chapter Trout Unlimited, Badger Fly Fishers, Southern Wisconsin Chapter Trout Unlimited, and the Watershed Access Fund of the Wisconsin State Council of Trout Unlimited raised $20,000 needed to complete the deal.  This quick work made it possible to meet the landowner’s deadline to sell the property before the end of this month.

Topf Wells, a strong supporter of both Trout Unlimited and Groundswell, helped with the private fundraising.  He told us that he did it in part in memory of long-time environmental advocate Dan Wisniewski.  Topf said, “I remember Dan Wisniewski, my sadly departed good friend and fishing partner, who always believed that land trusts would be a great ally to Trout Unlimited in conserving Wisconsin trout streams and making them available to the public.  Groundswell’s leadership in this purchase confirms Dan’s belief.”

As our Executive Director Jim likes to say, the conservation of cherished places doesn’t happen by accident.  This acquisition is a great example of a community effort to permanently protect land.

Here’s a nice story of collaboration to make nature more accessible.  One year ago, Shellie Benish, the Village Administrator/Clerk/Treasurer for the Village of Black Earth, sent us an email.  Could Groundswell help the Village acquire one acre of land to provide a new spot for canoeists and kayakers to get in 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 Shellie 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.

According to Shellie, “The Village is really excited for this opportunity to partner with Groundswell on this project.  We are truly grateful.  This project supports the Village goal of expanding outdoor recreation and the preservation of natural spaces.”

David said he is happy to sell the land.  “It is good that everyone got along fine to make this happen.”

So, today, with strong financial support from the Dane County Conservation Fund, the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, and Groundswell’s Norm Anderson Conservation Opportunities Fund, we purchased the property. This winter we will donate 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.

The Dane County Parks Commission oversees grants from the Dane County Conservation Fund.  According to County Supervisor Dave Ripp, Chair of the Parks Commission, “When you think of Dane County Parks, most people think of land.  Water trails are an important part of our outdoor recreation too, and this will be a great place to launch your canoe.”

We’re happy to share the good news that today, we purchased 38 acres of land along Black Earth Creek.  The property includes 3/4s of a mile of shoreline on both sides of the creek and 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 this land for many years. This acquisition is the happy product of many years of work by Trout Unlimited, the DNR, and others to build a strong relationship with the landowners and their neighbors.  Groundswell is fortunate that we were in the position to purchase the land when they were ready to sell. Groundswell will own and manage this property as part of the public conservation lands along the creek.

The Black Earth Creek valley is indeed a special place.  As many people know, Black Earth Creek is a high-quality, Class I trout stream with a national reputation. The stream has been rated as one of the 100 best trout streams in the nation by Trout Unlimited and is recognized as one of the most productive wild brown trout streams in Wisconsin. Lands owned by the DNR and public fishing easements along creeks in the valley provide public access and protect important wildlife habitat.

Thanks to the conservation vision of many landowners, this is the 16th land protection project Groundswell has completed in the valley since 2001.  In all we have worked together to permanently protect 1,116 acres of farmland, wetlands, stream corridors, and hiking trails in the valley.

Funding to purchase the property came from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, the Dane County Conservation Fund, and Groundswell’s Norm Anderson Conservation Opportunities Fund.