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Groundswell and the City of Madison finalized the purchase of 5.8 acres in the urban wetland park on December 6. The joint effort represents the last opportunity to put wetland and upland in the South Unit of the City’s Cherokee Marsh Conservation Park under permanent protection. This is Groundswell’s fifth acquisition at Cherokee Marsh.

Cherokee Marsh is a high-quality wetland within the Yahara River watershed and the largest in Dane County. The Wisconsin Wetlands Association named Cherokee Marsh a “wetland gem” in 2009, noting its value as a complex ecosystem that hosts many species of native plants, provides wildlife habitat and serves as a natural filter of upland runoff.

Beyond its ecological significance, Cherokee Marsh Conservation Park is a recreational magnet for Madison area residents who enjoy hiking and skiing its trails. It also serves as an environmental classroom for thousands of students each year. The newly protected addition to the park is located across the street from Gompers Elementary School/Black Hawk Middle School.

Groundswell and the City worked with Dennis Tiziani of Cherokee Park, Inc., who agreed to sell the property at less than its appraised value. The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, Dane County Conservation Fund, the City of Madison and members of Groundswell funded the purchase and Friends of Cherokee Marsh generated crucial local support.

On November 7, 2012, Groundswell completed an agricultural conservation easement on 178 acres of George Lucey’s farm in the Town of Black Earth (click here for map). The agricultural conservation easement ensures that the land will be available for agricultural use in perpetuity and prevents the building of non-agricultural buildings. The farm is adjacent to Black Earth Creek, a world-class trout stream, and the Black Earth Rettenmund Prairie, a State Natural Area owned by The Prairie Enthusiasts.

“I wanted to make sure this land stayed a farm forever,” said George Lucey. George approached Groundswell about permanently protecting his farm in 2009. It took over three years to bring the project to completion, but George says he doesn’t regret any of it. “Back in the early 1960’s, my father said this was the best farm in the Town of Black Earth. He didn’t live to see me own and farm it, but he would be happy to know it will remain a farm forever.”

The farmland in the valley of Black Earth Creek, in western Dane County, is rich and fertile. Thousands of years of alluvial processes have formed the thick, dark soil that leaves no uncertainty about the aptness of the creek’s name. The productivity of the soil is only one part of the farming equation, however. The viability of any given farm relies as much on the likelihood that a neighbor’s land is going to remain a farm as the number of bushels of corn the land produces. An area’s farming economy relies on having a critical mass of productive farms. Without that, the farming infrastructure can deteriorate and the idea of converting the farmland to other uses begins to look more appealing.

Preserving farmland in the Black Earth Creek valley is a key strategy of Groundswell to protect the quality and quantity of water in Black Earth Creek and is consistent with the local land use planning. The upland areas adjacent to the creek serve to collect the rain and infiltrate it to the groundwater, which in turn feeds the creek. Every addition of impervious surface in the valley contributes to stormwater runoff, rather than infiltration. Rainwater that runs off the surface of the land tends to do more harm than good to the water quality of the creek. The surface water is warmer, which makes it less desirable to trout and other cold-water species, and it often carries pollutants with it. Permanent easements ensure that the farmland itself remains available for water infiltration, but they also send a signal to neighbors that agriculture can remain a viable land use.

Groundswell won’t likely be able to protect all the land in the valley, but if we can help ensure that farming remains a viable economic use of the land, we can make the market work for us to keep the Black Earth Creek valley a stunning agricultural, scenic, and recreational resource.

Funding for this project came from the USDA Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, Wisconsin’s Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement program, The Conservation Fund, and members of Groundswell.

In September, Groundswell, in partnership with Dane County, completed a 45-acre conservation easement that permanently protects and creates public access to over one mile of a newly restored stretch of Black Earth Creek just east of Mazomanie (click for map). The easement is part of an ambitious project to develop the first segment of the Good Neighbor Trail between Mazomanie and the City of Middleton. A partnership of local governments and non-profit groups is spearheading the trail effort, which involves restoring the creek, reducing erosion along the stream bank and reconnecting the stream to its floodplain.

The transformation of this stretch of Black Earth Creek has been nothing short of amazing. What was once a deep, straight channel behind a dam has been restored into a beautiful meandering stream with a gravelly bottom and gently sloping banks. “It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to this farm,” says landowner Fred Wolf. “The Wolf family is really proud of what we’ve been able to do to restore this beautiful creek and make it available to the public,” says Wolf, who has championed the creek restoration and trail project for many years. “This land doesn’t belong to me. I might hold the title, but this place should be here for everyone to enjoy.”

This easement is our 10th completed project in the Black Earth Creek valley, which is a priority conservation area for Groundswell. Over the last decade, we have permanently protected over 760 acres of important lands in this iconic landscape in western Dane County.

Our thanks go to Fred Wolf and his family, whose generosity made this project possible. Additional funding came from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program and Groundswell members.

Watch a 3-minute video about the how the Wolf Run Trail is reconnecting a community with Black Earth Creek.

Another 136 acres of high-quality working farmland has been permanently reserved for agricultural production (see map here). On August 3, in conjunction with the Town of Windsor, Madison-based Groundswell finalized an agricultural conservation easement on an eastern Dane County farm under a joint program to purchase development rights from conservation-minded farmers. The agreement brings to 31 the number of area farms Groundswell protects in this way, a total of more than 4,500 acres.

The Town created the purchase of development rights program, or PDR, in 2006 with the assistance of Groundswell. The program is part of Windsor’s response to the press of residential and other non-agricultural development on what is some of the nation’s most productive farmland. The Town mapped 11,000 of its acres for continued agricultural use. This area is designated by the state as a Wisconsin Agricultural Enterprise Area. The Town adopted the PDR program to permanently protect farms through individual agreements like the one just enacted. Groundswell and the Town take joint responsibility for monitoring the agricultural easement annually.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCAP) Working Lands Initiative Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements (PACE) program and Groundswell members helped fund the easement purchase.

On July 3, 2012 Groundswell completed an agricultural conservation easement on Fountain Prairie Farm, owned by John and Dorothy Priske. The Priskes raise Scottish Highland cattle on their 277-acre grass based farm and direct market their meats to customers through farmers’ markets and local restaurants.

The large and diverse farm just west of Columbus in Columbia County contains high-quality rotationally-grazed pastures, a restored prairie and wetland, and a stretch of Babcock Creek, a tributary to the Crawfish River. Permanent protection of the farm helps meet the goals of the DNR’s Glacial Habitat Restoration Area by protecting grassland and wetland habitat in a mosaic of conventional corn and soybean farms for the benefit of waterfowl, pheasants, and songbirds.

The Priskes have a commitment to sustainability and have won several awards for their farming practices, including the Conservation Farmer of the Year award in 2010, given by the Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association, and a Leopold Restoration Award in 2011, given by the University of Wisconsin Arboretum. By restoring wetlands, controlling runoff from the farm, leaving some pastures ungrazed to benefit nesting grassland birds, and installing a 50 kilowatt wind turbine that powers the entire farm, the Priskes have demonstrated their strong land ethic.

When the Priskes bought the farm in 1986, it was a conventional corn and soybean operation. After several years of operation, things began to change for them. The death of two of their dogs from cancer, declining numbers of songbirds on the farm, and the rapid rate of soil erosion alarmed John and Dorothy. They felt there had to be another way to farm – and that’s when John discovered Aldo Leopold.

After reading Leopold’s “The Farmer as a Conservationist,” John and Dorothy realized that the industrial style of agriculture that had become the norm was not the only way to farm. They knew there was a way that could nourish the land and the farmer. A trip to New Zealand, where they saw sheep being raised on rotationally grazed pastures helped solidify their ideas. Back home, the conversion of their farm to grass started in earnest.

Some 14 years later, the Priskes haven’t looked back. Each new conservation practice they incorporate on the farm leads them to another. Continuous improvement in the health of their land is a passion for the couple. Placing a conservation easement on the farm to protect it in perpetuity was a logical step.

“We wanted to be proactive and take responsibility for this land,” John says.  “The conservation easement allowed us to make a permanent decision to preserve the land that we’ve been stewards of for so many years.

Funding for this conservation easement purchase came from the USDA Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements program, The Conservation Fund, and the members of Groundswell.

To celebrate the completion of the conservation easement, the Priskes and Groundswell hosted a special dinner on the farm prepared by Chef Tory Miller of L’Etoile and Graze restaurants on Sunday, September 16, 2012.


Good news that yesterday, we purchased 16.5 acres of land at Allen Creek Wetlands State Natural Area on Star School Road just south of Fort Atkinson. The property is about two miles upstream from where Allen Creek flows into the Rock River south of Fort. The property is mostly sedge meadow with savanna and other uplands, providing good nesting and foraging habitat for a variety of birds and other animals, possibly including the state-threatened Blanding’s turtle.

The state natural area is within the Allen Creek River-based Conservation Area, a part of the Glacial Heritage Area which is an initiative to link parks, preserves, and wildlife and natural areas to nearby cities and villages in Jefferson County and beyond, providing opportunities for residents and visitors to get outdoors to enjoy and learn about nature. The property will be open to the public, and we hope to donate it to the DNR for long-term management.

Funding for this acquisition came from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and Groundswell members. Our thanks to the landowners and everyone else who made the conservation of this property possible.


On Wednesday, March 7, 2012 Groundswell purchased the last 10 acres of privately owned shoreland at the Amey Pond Wildlife Refuge on Highway 23 east of the Wisconsin Dells. Amey Pond (map) is a 225-acre DNR wildlife property that provides habitat for a wide variety of waterfowl, including wood ducks, coots, and mallards; every spring white pelicans spend a few days on Amey Pond on their way north.

We bought the property from refuge neighbor Tom Bruss. A retired firefighter, Tom purchased the property several years ago in the hopes that it would one day become part of the refuge. We thank Tom for his foresight.

Funds to purchase the property came from the state’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, the federal North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and Groundswell members. We hope to donate the property to the DNR as an addition to the wildlife refuge.

“Thank you Groundswell and Tom Bruss for this wetland addition to the Amy Pond Wildlife Refuge. Truly a bright spot in a challenged time for our wetland wildlife. Such a beautiful area, and sensitive to migratory paths!! Yay for the Good Guys!”

-Judith Hutchinson, Chair of Token Creek Conservancy