Conservation easements are a great way to keep rich agricultural land in production and prevent wildlife habitat from being paved over. Groundswell uses conservation easements to permanently protect 6,000 acres of farmland, streambanks, and wildlife habitat in southcentral Wisconsin. We have set up an endowment at Madison Community Foundation to ensure that we will always have the financial resources to annually visit the easement land and ensure that the land use limits voluntarily placed on the land are always upheld.
But when it comes to taking care of the prairies, savannas, and other wildlife habitat on some of the easements — habitat that needs active management to keep it healthy — conservation easements fall short. It is far easier to prevent someone from building a house on easement land (which is what conservation easements are good at) than it is to make a landowner keep invasive plants out of their prairie or woodland.
Thanks to creative thinking and a strong love of the land, landowners Mariana and Frank Weinhold have taken the stewardship of their conservation easement land to the next level at Louis’ Bluff north of the Wisconsin Dells. A natural landmark on the Wisconsin River, featuring a tall sandstone bluff topped with towering white pines, Louis’ Bluff is relatively free from non-native plants thanks to Mariana’s vigilance. In 2007 the Weinholds took an important step in permanently protecting Louis’ Bluff by granting Groundswell a perpetual conservation easement over their property. A few years later, as they began the process of transferring Louis’ Bluff to their children, they had to reckon with the fact that their children, who have busy lives of their own, might not be able to care for Louis’ Bluff as they have.
So in 2015 the Weinholds brought together Natural Resources Foundation and Groundswell to create a land management endowment for Louis’ Bluff. This endowment will provide a steady stream of income to Groundswell to annually inventory and remove invasive plants. Although the endowment will not be big enough to cover all the land management needs of Louis’ Bluff, it offers a partial solution to the question many landowners have about how to maintain the ecological integrity of a cherished property even after they no longer own the land. According to Mariana and Frank, “We are very pleased that Groundswell and Natural Resources Foundation have stepped up to help us ensure that Louis Bluff will have some oversight and management in the future when we no longer have the energy. Our children are very supportive of having the extra pair of eyes and hands, as well as the land management expertise. We hope that other landowners will consider doing similar programs.”
Visit Louis’ Bluff with the Madison Club. Dells Magic: Wisconsin Dells Fall Tour