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Mike and Lynn McLain’s 13-acre conservation easement has protected wetland, savanna, and agricultural land adjacent to Lower Mud Lake on the Yahara River for the past 30 years.

Check out the video below from Channel 3 reporting on the creation of the easement 30 years ago on October 28, 1987. It features our founding board president, Norman Anderson, and Bill O’Connor, our long-time attorney who was pivotal in building the Land Trust movement in WI.

Our thanks go to the McLains for their 30 years of stewardship of their land and Groundswell supporters, who make conservation where you live possible.

On Tuesday, June 28, 2017, a family with Madison roots permanently protected 165 acres of their beloved land through a voluntary conservation easement donated to Groundswell.

The family’s land along Rowan Creek just west of Poynette in Columbia County (map) boasts some remarkable views over the Rowan Creek valley and is being lovingly restored by the family.

Many threatened and endangered species have been found on the property, including slender glass lizard, massasauga rattlesnake, and ornate box turtle. The conservation easement ensures that the land will remain an undeveloped refuge for these and other animals and plants in perpetuity.

The property and its surrounding landscape is also culturally very rich, with a long history of use by Native Americans and farmers of European descent. And while it seems unbelievable, Wisconsin’s first outdoor rock festival, Sound Storm, featuring the Grateful Dead, was held in a natural amphitheater on the property in 1970. Read the Wisconsin Historical Society’s article here.

We honor Telle Zoller for having the vision to protect this special place, forever. And, we thank the supporters of Groundswell for making this project possible.

Thanks to long-time rural Lodi residents Lydia L. O’Brien, Mary J. Thompson, and Marjorie Quam (The Miller family), 58 acres have been protected forever at the Lodi Marsh Wildlife Area and State Natural Area in northern Dane County. The property has been in the Miller family for more than 150 years, as part of the family farm which had been a dairy operation for many years.

The property is mostly wetland wildlife habitat, and is home to as many as 14 species of Papaipema moths, which are indicators of high-quality prairie and wetland habitat. Breeding birds include great-blue heron, Sandhill crane, common snipe, willow and alder flycatcher, sedge wren, marsh wren, yellow warbler, blue-winged warbler, and a large number of red-winged blackbirds.

Surrounded by state land on three sides, this property is a natural addition to the 1,186 acre conservation landscape at Lodi Marsh. The property (map) is located on County Y on the north west side of the Wildlife Area, about 3 miles outside the City of Lodi. The family had previously enrolled the land in the state’s voluntary public access program to allow hunting; with our acquisition, that access is now permanent.

This acquisition wouldn’t have been possible without the financial support of Groundswell members, including a special gift from long-time supporters Gary Werner and Melanie Lord. Additional grant funding came from the Dane County Conservation Fund, the Dane County Chapter of Pheasants Forever, and the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

This is our second acquisition of land at Lodi Marsh and another milestone — together we have protected more than 11,000 acres, forever.

Good news that on May 9, 2017 we purchased 50 acres (map) of floodplain forest and frontage on the Sugar River at Avon Bottoms Wildlife Area in southwestern Rock County.

This acquisition fills in several gaps in county and state conservation land along S. Nelson Road. Some of it surrounds the Rock County Sugar River Park and boat launch just south of the S. Nelson Road bridge over the Sugar River.

Avon Bottoms is a nearly 3,000 acre wildlife area stretching for seven miles along the Sugar River. At this time of year it is the scene of much migratory bird activity, including the brilliant prothonotary warblers. Thanks to your support we were able to successfully negotiate the purchase of this wonderful property. This is our third acquisition at Avon Bottoms, totaling 598 acres permanently protected since 2006.

Thanks to the willing landowner John Jensen, and funding from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, Pheasants Forever Rock River Valley Chapter, and supporters of Groundswell for permanently protecting this wonderful piece of our state’s great natural heritage.

Today, April 22, 2017 we celebrate the 20th Anniversary of our first Town of Dunn deal!

The Town of Dunn purchased its first property for the PDR program on April 22, 1997 from the Sinaiko Family. It was the first Purchase of Development Rights transaction in the state of Wisconsin, as this plaque on the property now explains. The property held a former Native American campsite, and a portion of the property is now a Town Park.

Sinaiko Conservation Easement, covering 163.2 acres, ultimately held by DCNHF and Town of Dunn, covering parcels now owned by Uphoff, Hagen, Christenson, and Town of Dunn (park).  This became the first Town of Dunn Purchase of Development Rights.  The conservation easement was split into four parcels:  farms fields, a town park, and two wooded tracts (allowing one house each).

Save the Date! Join us to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of our partnership with the Town of Dunn on Saturday, September 16 from noon – 3 pm.

Good news that on March 23, 2017 another farm was permanently protected (see the map) as part of our 20-year partnership with the Town of Dunn’s Rural Preservation Program.

The beautiful 90-acre Parisi Family Farm is operated as an organic Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, selling shares of the annual produce to local subscribers. Terry Parisi and her son, Franco, have been operating the CSA for about 10 years.

Watch a one minute video with Terry Parisi

Financial assistance to purchase the permanent conservation easement came from the residents of the Town of Dunn and the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. Our thanks goes to Terry Parisi for selling the easement and to you and the many other supporters of Groundswell who make projects like this possible.

Good news that on March 22, 2017 we completed a permanent conservation easement on ~30 acres of restored prairie and prime farmland as part of our long-standing partnership with the Town of Dunn. The property is part of a more than 2000-acre contiguous block of private and public conservation lands just 4 miles from the capitol. This achievement is thanks to the conservation-minded farmers in the Town of Dunn and 20 years of dedicated work by the citizens and leaders of the Town of Dunn, with us at their side the whole way.

The landowners, Don Schmidt and Carole Becker-Schmidt, have lovingly restored about half of the property to tall-grass prairie and, through Don’s artistic talents, have adorned it with a wonderful family of metal bison.

Watch a one minute video with Don and Carole.

Financial assistance to purchase the permanent conservation easement came from the residents of the Town of Dunn and the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. Our thanks goes to Don and Carole Schmidt and to you and the many other supporters of Groundswell who make projects like this possible.

Groundswell takes lead responsibility to ensure that a 116-acre farm in the Black Earth Creek Valley would be forever protected from development and always available for farming.  

Pam Allen’s 116-acre farm lies in Black Earth Creek Valley, a picturesque landscape that features stunningly scenic overlooks, meandering streams and some of the most fertile soil in Wisconsin. The valley also is home to its namesake Black Earth Creek, an angler’s paradise rated one of the 100 best trout streams in the U.S. Through its rich natural resources, Black Earth Creek Valley provides public access to fishing, recreational greenspace and scenic vistas; critical wildlife habitat; and prime farmland that helps the region maintain food independence.

As a high school ag teacher and farmer, Pam has long recognized the valley’s significant community benefits and sought to preserve them from encroaching urban development. That’s why she decided to enter into a conservation easement agreement in 2002, partnering with American Farmland Trust, Dane County and Wisconsin DNR. Not only does the agreement permanently protect her farm from development pressures, it also puts into place a succession plan for her family that will help prevent estate management conflicts. “I’ve seen so many families torn apart over disagreements on what to do with inherited land,” Allen says. “It’s sad, and preventable, with a little forethought and planning.”

A third benefit to easement agreements like Pam’s is financial compensation. Through Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) programs, qualified environmentally significant land can bring a one-time payout that the landowner may place into a trust or reinvest in current operations—providing yet another way conservation easements help ensure land is properly maintained and protected. “Even without development options, PDR land value still increases with the growing appreciation for high quality greenspace,” Pam notes. “Especially if it’s near a city.”

Farming as Usual

In the 14 years since entering her conservation easement agreement, Pam continues farming as usual. Her dairy herd has now transitioned into a beef steer raising operation, for more schedule flexibility, and she rents adjacent cropland from the family of the late Otto and Evelyn Festge. The Allen farm is part of the original Festge family homestead, purchased from the family in 1985. It lies directly south of Festge County Park, a 155-acre wooded parkland that Otto and Evelyn Festge donated to Dane County in 1963. Eighty more acres still held by Festge heirs are also preserved as a farmland conservation easement. Otto Festge served two terms as Mayor of the City of Madison, and was an early pioneer of stream bank restoration in the Black Earth Creek Valley.

Some of Pam’s farm goals for the future include exploring the production of ancient grain crops, expanding controlled grazing for targeted vegetation control, and keeping the farm self-sustaining so her grandchildren can continue to visit regularly to experience life on the farm. “I’m thinking ahead more than one generation,” Pam says optimistically. “Even if my family decides to not keep the farm once I’m gone, the land will still be protected for others to enjoy…maybe even turned into a public park.”

American Farmland Trust to Groundswell

After many years of successful involvement with Allen’s easement, and others across the state, American Farmland Trust determined it was necessary to divest its presence in Wisconsin in order to focus its limited resources in other areas. Its role as land trust partner in Pam’s easement agreement had to be handed over to a trusted local land trust with a successful track record. The search was short. Groundswell fit the requirements in every way. Black Earth Creek Valley is in the heart of Groundswell’s priority area, they operate a very active monitoring program, and have worked extensively with surrounding landowners so are familiar with and sensitive to their concerns, priorities and history. The land trust partner transition was completed in February, 2017.

Since 2001, Groundswell has protected more than 1,124 acres in the Black Earth Creek Valley through the purchase of land and conservation easements. Being chosen to assume the new role of land trust partner in the Allen Easement reinforces Groundswell’s well-earned reputation as a highly effective and trusted conservation partner.

Learn more about Black Earth Creek Valley and how Groundswell helps permanently protect land.

Click here to listen to several different interviews with Pam as part of Voices of Rural Wisconsin.

Good news that on December 8th we completed a permanent conservation easement on 100 acres of prime farmland as part of our long-standing partnership with the Town of Dunn. The farmland is part of a more than 2000-acre contiguous block of private and public conservation lands just 4 miles from the capitol.

With this project completed, Groundswell and Town of Dunn will have permanently protected more than 3,000 acres of farmland, forests, and wetlands on the edge of Madison.

Financial assistance to purchase the permanent conservation easement came from the residents of the Town of Dunn and the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. Our thanks goes to the landowner that sold the easement and to you and the many other supporters of Groundswell who make projects like these possible.

Groundswell and Dane County swapped land to improve management of two public natural areas on November 28th, 2016.

Dane County donated 14 acres of land on the south side of Patrick Marsh Wildlife Area (map), on the eastern doorstep of Sun Prairie, to Groundswell. The land is adjacent to the 80 acres owned by Groundswell and is part of a 320-acre wildlife area. In exchange, Groundswell donated 40 acres of land north of Waunakee to Dane County. This land, the Wilke Prairie Preserve (map), is adjacent to the County’s Waunakee Prairie.

At Patrick Marsh, Groundswell has been working with Patrick Marsh Conservancy, Sun Prairie Rotary, Patrick Marsh Middle School, and other groups to improve trails and restore wildlife habitat. In November, 250 students from Patrick Marsh Middle School planted 18 acres of prairie in a field on the south side of the marsh. This fall the Land Trust officially adopted the DNR land at the marsh and will work on more improvements to wildlife habitat. The Land Trust works with volunteers, a summer intern crew, Operation Fresh Start, and others to make the wildlife area more accessible, educational, and enjoyable for everyone.

The land Dane County is gaining in this swap, the Wilke Prairie Preserve on Six Mile Creek north of Waunakee, was created in 1994 when Hazel Knudson donated 40 acres to Groundswell. According to Land Trust Executive Director Jim Welsh, “Hazel’s original goal had been to see her land become part of the county’s system of parks and natural resource areas. It’s nice to see that 22 years later we could fulfill Hazel’s wishes.”

According to Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, “The land exchanges with Groundswell are wonderful examples of how Dane County continues to collaborate with our conservation partners to deliver a quality and seamless recreational experience for residents of and visitors to Dane County.  These exchanges will increase management efficiencies and reduce operating costs by consolidating land holdings where the County or the Land Trust already owns other conservation and recreational lands.  My special thanks to Groundswell for all it does to further the goals of the County’s Parks and Open Space Plan.”