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We are happy to share the news that our on-going partnership with landowners and Dane County resulted today, November 20, 2020, in a new streambank and trail easement on Halfway Prairie Creek on the east side of the Village of Mazomanie.

This ten-acre easement has two purposes: streambank restoration and extension of a popular hike/bike trail. It adjoins the Wolf Run Trail that connects Mazomanie with Wisconsin Heights School.

Mazomanie is located near the bottom of the Black Earth Creek watershed and is especially vulnerable to flooding as our climate and land uses change. The community was very hard hit during the big flood two years ago next month. The easement allows the county to work with the landowner to restore more than 1,000 feet of Halfway Prairie Creek, reconnecting the creek to its floodplain and also improving fish habitat.

The Wolf Run Trail is part of an ambitious trail that will one day connect Madison and Middleton with Sauk City and Reedsburg, passing through Cross Plains, Black Earth, and Mazomanie. This easement is another link in the chain.

Wolf Run Trail volunteer, Jason Sromovsky, shot and produced this wonderful video of the Wolf Run Trail and the Black Earth Creek wetland corridor.

This is the second time that landowner Fred Wolf has protected land for the public good. As Fred put it, “I am just proud to be part of this work.  It is in my family blood to do this.  I saw an 80-year-old couple on the trail, with smiles on their faces. That is why I do this.”

Click here to watch a short video about the first Wolf Run Trail segment.

Mazomanie Village Administrator Peter Huebner described the importance of the easement to the Village. “This easement along Halfway Prairie Creek/Spring Valley Creek would be a great benefit for the Village of Mazomanie. The benefits are twofold: it would increase the creek’s effectiveness of holding back floodwaters, and the resulting trail would add to the enjoyment of those that already use our trails.”

Funding to purchase the easement came from the Dane County Conservation Fund and supporters of Groundswell.

On November 20, 2020, Groundswell and the Town of Dunn permanently protected 53 acres of farmland in the Town. In 23 years of partnership, we have protected 33 farms. Behind each of these farms is an individual or family who knows the value of land. Each of them have chosen to leave a legacy of land protection. Their legacies total more than 3,500 acres of prime farmland, woodlands, and wetlands. In November 2020, John Gefke left his legacy.

Thank you, John Gefke, for protecting your farm for future generations. We also thank the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service for providing funding for this easement. Thank you to our supporters who make our work possible. Finally, thank you to the residents of the Town of Dunn. Your vision and financial support for this work is unmatched. The Rural Preservation Program is an outstanding success because of you.

Thanks to the conservation goals of Oscar and Norma Bjugstad, on March 27, 2020, we were able to place a conservation easement on 106 acres of high-quality farmland on the southeast side of Evansville Wildlife Area in Rock County. The easement permanently prevents development of the property, keeping it available for farming and open to the public for hunting at the adjacent wildlife area.

As Oscar and Norma put it, “We believe in preserving the farmland for future generations!” That sentiment runs in the family. Their son Brian already protected his adjacent farm with a permanent conservation easement.

A major funder of the conservation easement is the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Land Easement program.  According to Kristin Westad, NRCS Easement Biologist, “The purpose of the ALE program is to help effective organizations like Groundswell Conservancy protect even more land. Groundswell brought USDA funds together with other contributions to protect soil, water and wildlife habitat. Meeting farm families like the Bjugstads is the highlight of my job.”

Other funding to purchase the easement came from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, the Rock River Valley Chapter of Pheasants Forever, and supporters of Groundswell including the estate of Marie Fraser.

As the times and protocols call for, we purchased the easement by escrow, meaning that the Bjugstads and Jim Welsh were not physically in the room when the transaction occurred.

Jim’s message to the Groundswell community at the time was, “This is the last closing we expect to have for a few months, but that doesn’t mean our land protection efforts will stop. Staff will continue to lay the foundation for future conservation easements and acquisitions.  In the meantime, I hope you can find your own good news by getting outside and enjoying the spring. The pasque flowers should be in bloom on the prairies shortly.  I hope you stay well.”

“For many of us, water simply flows from a faucet, and we think little about it beyond this point of contact. We have lost a sense of respect for the wild river, for the complex workings of a wetland, for the intricate web of life that water supports.”
– Sandra Postel, Freshwater Conservationist and Author

On Wednesday, March 18, 2020, Groundswell purchased 69 acres of wetlands south of McFarland in the Town of Dunn. Landowners Ken and Eileen Brost have understood and respected these wetlands for many years, and their commitment to conservation will leave a lasting legacy.

The property is adjacent to Lower Mud Lake State Fishery Area south of McFarland along Hwy. 51 and helps fill in the project boundary for Dane County’s Lower Mud Lake Natural Resource Area. Groundswell will manage the property consistent with the adjacent state land to increase public recreation opportunities and provide permanent habitat for ducks and other wildlife.

Funding to purchase the property came from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, Dane County Conservation Fund, Town of Dunn, and supporters of Groundswell.

As the times (COVID-19 pandemic) call for, we practiced social distancing at the closing. Only the bare minimum number of people participated.

Jim Welsh noted in the announcement, “My love of land and community remains strong.  I know that we will we get through this troubling time together.  I hope you stay well.”

On Friday, December 20, 2019, Groundswell purchased 5 acres of land near Cross Plains in the Black Earth Creek valley. This success is thanks to a conservation-minded family and strong community support for protecting the creek.

The property is adjacent to state-owned land on the east side of Cross Plains between Hwy. 14 and the railroad tracks. This acquisition helps fill-in the project boundaries for the DNR’s Black Earth Creek Fishery Area and Dane County’s Black Earth Creek Natural Resource Area. The land will be open to the public for outdoor recreation activities.

Best of all, this acquisition forever prevents the development of the property. A 2003 study by the University of Wisconsin estimated that 4.5% of the valley was already covered with impervious surfaces like pavement and rooftops. A generally accepted rule of thumb is that stream health begins to decline when impervious surface reaches 10% and becomes severely degraded when imperviousness exceeds 30 percent. I don’t know how much impervious surface is in the valley today, but is has surely increased since 2003.

Here is a map showing the nearly 1,000 acres of land Groundswell has permanently protected in the Black Earth Creek valley since 2003. Your support has made it possible to create public conservancy areas, trails, and public access along streams that feed into Black Earth Creek and place agricultural conservation easements that limit impervious surface. Each project gets us a little closer to completing the puzzle of conservation in the Black Earth Creek valley.

Funding to purchase the property came from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, Dane County Conservation Fund, Southern Wisconsin Chapter of Trout Unlimited, and supporters of Groundswell, including the estate of Marie Fraser.

As we learn more and more every day, every single piece of wetland we have left is worth protecting – the health of Madison’s chain of lakes depends on our wetlands. So I am happy to share with you that today we permanently protected 84 acres of wetlands along Six-Mile Creek on the northwest side of Waunakee. Six-Mile Creek flows north and west of Waunakee into Lake Mendota. We need wetlands, like the one we purchased today, to keep the water clean and reduce flooding.

The O’Malley family worked patiently with us for four years to protect their land. It has been in the family for three generations. Please check out the short video below to hear their story.  When I first saw the property, I began to get a sense of their attachment to it. I feel lucky that they asked us to help them protect it.

Funding and other support to purchase the property came from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, Dane County Conservation Fund, North American Wetlands Conservation Act, Village of Waunakee, the Town of Westport, and supporters of Groundswell including the Estate of Marie Fraser. The Village of Waunakee will be the long-term owner of the property.

I hope you can join us for a celebration with the O’Malley’s later this month.  It will be a nice chance to thank the family for what they did. We will send out an email with details in the next week.

Good news that on March 29, 2019 another conservation-minded landowner permanently protected their farmland in the Town of Dunn south of Madison. The farmer entered into a permanent conservation easement – a voluntary land protection agreement – with the Town of Dunn and Groundswell Conservancy. This agreement ensures that the rich soils on the farm cannot be developed and will remain available for farming now and in the future.

The residents of the Town of Dunn provided the funding for this conservation easement through the town’s Rural Preservation Program which allows for the purchase of development rights (PDR) on farmland in the Town.

Ed Minihan, the Chair of the Town of Dunn said, “This property is proof that the PDR program works. Here, we have a young farmer that wanted to purchase his own farm in the Town of Dunn and expand his business. The money he received through the PDR program made this dream economically feasible.”

This 80-acre farm is now part of a larger protected landscape. The Town of Dunn, which is outlined in black on the map, has permanently protected around 20% of the Town (land parcels in yellow on the map) through the partnership of landowners, the Town, and Groundswell.

We are honored to work with the Town of Dunn and the landowners; we are grateful they have made conservation a priority.

Good news that on December 21, 2018, Groundswell and the Town of Dunnpermanently protected two more farms (here and here).  Over the last 21 years, our partnership with the Town has resulted in the preservation of 30 properties totaling more than 3,200 acres of prime farmland, woodlands, and wetlands.

One of these newly protected farms is owned by Bill and Roz Gausman, long-time dairy farmers in the Town. Their pasture-based dairy operation was ahead of its time and their milk was used to make artisan cheeses here in southern Wisconsin.

Our sincerest thanks go to the two families who have protected their farms for future generations. Thanks also to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service for providing funding and to the residents of the Town of Dunn – who have made their Rural Preservation Program an amazing success and funded these latest easements with their own tax dollars.

To each of you – supporters, partners, volunteers, and landowners – our deepest gratitude for your care and generosity, which is protecting our special places, forever.

We are happy to share good news that today, December 11, 2019, thanks to the foresight and generosity of Patrick and Patricia Hermsen, we permanently protected 59 acres of field and forest overlooking the Village of Oregon. Pat and Patricia’s goal is to create a conservation park on their beautiful property overlooking the west side of the Village.

Like many great endeavors, setting the stage for this new park has taken perseverance. Pat and Patricia approached us in early 2015 about helping them achieve their goal.   With the cooperation of the Town of Oregon and the Village of Oregon, the conservation easement recorded today on the property keeps the property open for park and nature-based recreation purposes, as well as a link in a future bike/hike trail. The Hermsens intend to donate the property to the Village when they no longer live there. It would become a village conservation park at that time.

It takes conservation-minded landowners like Pat and Patricia to set aside great places for the enjoyment of future generations. I think that the words of Mahatma Gandhi are an appropriate conclusion for Pat and Pat’s endeavor, “The future depends on what we do in the present”. Our thanks to the Hermsens for their generosity and vision and also to all the supporters of Groundswell who help make these conservation successes possible.

Here is something to be thankful for as 2018 comes to a close: a conservation-minded landowner working with Groundswell to permanently protect important land and water. Today, December 5, 2018, we purchased 36 acres of land on Swan Creek from landowner Brian Pasley.

A fourth generation landowner, Brian has been determined to protect the last remaining part of his family’s farm upstream from Waubesa Wetlands. Brian told me he was motivated by the impending development of land in the City of Fitchburg, some of which is in the headwaters of Waubesa Wetlands. Over the next few years, more than one square mile of farmland and rural open space will be transformed into a new neighborhood, bringing changes to the quality and quantity of water heading into Waubesa Wetlands via Swan Creek.

We will be remembering Brian’s family’s history on the property in our name for it, Pasley’s Swan Creek Farm.

We are now working with Robert Pierce and Neighborhood Food Solutions to locate some of Robert’s innovative agricultural programming on the property – creating a place for kids and adults to learn about where food comes from and how to grow it.

We were able to purchase the property thanks to Brian’s generosity in selling the land to us at a discount, along with funding from the Dane County Conservation Fund, Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, the estate of Marie Fraser, two anonymous donors, and the supporters of Groundswell who help make these conservation successes possible.