Skip Navigation
Main Menu
Bison sculptures decorate the prairie at Oak Grove Farm in the Town of Dunn, WI. Photo credit: Roberta Herschleb

Special Place

Town of Dunn

Overview

“I was able to keep the farm and know that its beauty and valuable soil will remain…farmland forever.” 

— Terry Parisi, certified organic farm owner producing grazed livestock, vegetables, fruit and nut trees, hay and honey on her 91 acre in the Town of Dunn. Terry’s farm is permanently protected from further development by a conservation easement held by the Town of Dunn and Groundswell Conservancy.

Did you know that some of the best farmland in the country is right here in south-central Wisconsin? The vast prairies that once blanketed this part of the world built a soil that is second to none for growing the food that sustains us and the agricultural economy that is so important to our state. And yet in places like the Town of Dunn, that rich farmland is under intense development pressure from the surrounding communities of Madison, McFarland, Fitchburg, Oregon, and Stoughton. 

Almost 4,000 acres of prime farmland as well as wetlands and forest are permanently protected from development under the Town’s Rural Preservation Program. Groundswell has been a partner in the Town’s program since 1997.

Our History with the Town of Dunn

Following years of community discussions by leaders and landowners, on Earth Day 1997 the Town of Dunn made Wisconsin history. It entered into a voluntary agreement with landowners to permanently protect 147 acres of farmland from development. The agreement, recorded in the Dane County Register of Deeds as a conservation easement, safeguards the farming future of the land by preventing residential or commercial development of the property.

This was the first farmland conservation project ever undertaken by a Town government in Wisconsin. The citizens of the Town had organized to create their Rural Preservation Program to preserve the things they valued most about their community: the farmland, woodlands, scenic vistas, and historic and cultural sites. A remarkable aspect of their program is that Town residents chose to tax themselves to pay for it.  And the US Department of Agricultural has been a significant funding partner in this conservation success.

Rather than imposing more land restrictions and regulations on landowners, the Town decided the best path to successful conservation was to purchase development rights (PDR) from willing landowners. In a PDR program the landowner voluntarily agrees to restrict certain land uses, usually new development, by granting a conservation easement. They are paid to give up those rights and they often invest the proceeds into their farm operation. 

The easement agreement “follows the land”, binding current and future landowners to its terms.

Groundswell has partnered with the Town of Dunn since 1997. We act independently from government—and changes in leadership—to ensure the Town’s investment and farmers’ conservation goals will always be upheld. We annually visit the properties to ensure that the conservation goals are being upheld.

Now, more than two decades later, the Town of Dunn and Groundswell Conservancy hold conservation easements that permanently protect almost 4,000 acres of working agricultural land across 33 farms. That’s roughly 20% of the Town’s land base—an impressive achievement with a long, passion-driven history.

The Town of Dunn’s PDR program is so successful that it serves as a teaching tool in communities across the United States. Strong, persistent Town leadership and buy-in from farmers has made this program a huge success.

Making Conservation History

On Earth Day 1997, the Town of Dunn made Wisconsin history. It entered into an agreement to permanently protect 147 acres of farmland from development. By granting a conservation easement to the Town, the owners of this farmland became the first participants in Dunn’s new Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program.

Now, more than two decades later, the Town of Dunn and Groundswell Conservancy hold conservation easements that permanently protect 4,000 acres of working agricultural land across 33 farms. That’s roughly 20% of the Town’s land base—an impressive achievement with a long, passion-driven history.

Located in Dane County, an agriculturally rich yet rapidly developing area, the Town of Dunn experienced intense development pressure from surrounding communities throughout the 1980s. It was losing farmland rapidly, at a rate ranking fourth in the county. So, concerned Town leaders and residents took action.

Rather than imposing more land restrictions and regulations on landowners, the Town decided the best path to successful conservation was to purchase development rights from willing landowners. In a PDR program the landowner voluntarily agrees to restrict certain land uses, usually new development, by granting a conservation easement. They receive compensation for these rights, that can help support the farm, or gift the value. The agreement follows the land, binding current and future landowners.

Groundswell has partnered with the Town of Dunn since 1997. We act independently from government—and changes in leadership—to ensure the Town’s and farmers’ conservation goals will always be upheld. We annually visit the properties to ensure that the conservation goals are being upheld and the Town’s investment stays secured.

The Town of Dunn’s PDR program is so successful that it serves as a teaching tool in communities across the United States. Strong, persistent Town leadership spearheaded this initiative. But support from conservation-minded residents and landowners has been critical to the preservation of the Town’s farmland, and the local economy and beautiful rural landscape it sustains.

Our Projects at Town of Dunn

Open to the Public Hunting is Allowed
34 Projects (Alphabetized by Project Area)
This 254-acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land. There is no public access.
This property was purchased and later transferred to Dane County to permanently protect undeveloped shoreline at Waubesa Wetlands. This property is open to the public.
~80-acre conservation easement protects important farmland. The property was protected in partnership with Town of Dunn. There is no public access.
This 143-acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land. There is no public access.
This 75-acre conservation easement in the Town of Dunn protects high-quality farmland and permanent open-space. There is no public access.
This 68-acre conservation easement protects farmland and open space in the Lower Mud Lake Natural Resource Area between Lake Kegonsa and Lower Mud Lake. The easement also reserves a corridor for the proposed Lower Yahara River bike and pedestrian trail that would one day link McFarland with points to the south. This property is open to the public.
This 46-acre conservation easement preserves wildlife habitat and hunting land. There is no public access.
This ~212-acre conservation easement in the Town of Dunn protects high-quality farmland and open-space. There is no public access.
This ~53-acre conservation easement protects high-quality farmland and open-space as part of the Town of Dunn's Rural Preservation Program. This property was protected in partnership with the Town of Dunn and USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service. There is no public access.
This 64-acre conservation easement preserves wildlife habitat and hunting land, including approximately 1,900 feet of frontage on the Yahara River. There is no public access.
This 34-acre conservation easement in the Town of Dunn protects high-quality farmland and permanent open-space protection adjacent to the Hook Lake State Wildlife Area. There is no public access.
This 233-acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land. There is no public access.
This 150-acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land as well as wetland and woodland. There is no public access.
This 80-acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land and a 15-acre woodland. There is no public access.
This 198-acre conservation easement protects productive agricultural land, 30 acres of wetland, 20 acres of woodland, and several archeological sites. There is no public access.
This 162-acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land. There is no public access.
This 324-acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land and a wetland. There is no public access.
This 150- acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land as well as 20 acres of wetland and 26 acres of woodland. There is no public access.
This 38-acre conservation easement in the Town of Dunn provides additional protection for the Waubesa Wetlands State Natural Area and preserves the scenic views along the designated rustic Lalor Road. There is no public access.
This 66-acre conservation easement protects wildlife habitat. There is no public access.
This 20.5 acre conservation easement prohibits residential development on the shore of Hook Lake, a state natural area and wildlife area. There is no public access.
This ~76-acre conservation easement in the Town of Dunn protects high-quality farmland and open-space. There is no public access.
This is a partner project with the Town of Dunn's Rural Preservation Program. The project protects 30 acres prime farmland and restored prairie in the Town of Dunn. There is no public access.
This 96-acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land. There is no public access.
A ~91-acre farm in the Town of Dunn protected as part of the town's Rural Preservation Program. There is no public access.
This 60-acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land. There is no public access.
This 106-acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land. There is no public access.
This easement protects an 80-acre working farm on the north shore of Hook Lake - one of the highest quality wetlands in Dane County and a State Natural and Wildlife Area. There is no public access.
This complex, 238-acre acquisition created the first protected farmland in the Town of Dunn's Rural Preservation Program (the first in the state) and added to the Nine Springs E-Way along the Captial City Trail. The property was subdivided, and most of the parcels were sold to private owners under conservation easement. All parcels are permanently protected. Most of this property is not open to the public. However, three acres were transferred to the Town of Dunn for a park at the corner of Alma and Lake Farm Roads.
This 130-acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land. There is no public access.
Thanks to the generosity of the landowner, this donated 226-acre conservation easement co-held with the American Farmland Trust protects productive farmland, woods, and wetlands. There is no public access.
This 51-acre conservation easement preserves productive agricultural land. There is no public access.
This ~100-acre conservation easement protects prime working farmland as part of the Town of Dunn's Rural Preservation Program. There is no public access.