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Ferry Bluff. Photo credit: Tim Escher


Strategic Plan


January 1, 2020 – December 31, 2024
Approved by Board of Directors November 20, 2019
Amended by Board of Directors February 23, 2022


We protect special places forever. We want everyone to live in a world filled with green places where communities thrive. We believe that land is essential for all people’s physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness. If we don’t protect undeveloped land now, it may be lost forever.


  • Conservation. We are champions for conservation and know how to get tangible results.
  • Connectedness. We believe we are all connected to the land and each other.
  • Commitment.  We have the tenacity to persevere for the long-run.
  • Collaboration. We respect and partner with landowners, people, and groups who care about special places.
  • Community. We seek to remove barriers that prevent all people from enjoying the benefits of land, especially those communities historically disenfranchised from land.


Since Groundswell’s founding in 1983, we have permanently protected more than 12,000 acres of important land and water that provide for a higher quality of life in southern Wisconsin. Our record of success includes protecting cherished landscapes like Cherokee Marsh and the Black Earth Creek valley, valuable agricultural areas like the Town of Dunn, vital wetlands that help maintain water quality in the Yahara Chain of Lakes, and nearby places where kids can fall in love with nature and where food is grown for local markets.

Our nature preserves are community centers with vibrant outdoor volunteering programs, job training opportunities and exciting community engagement initiatives like the bird-inspired wildlife overlook at Patrick Marsh and our partnership with Waunakee High School students at Westport Prairie. Our robust conservation easement program helps many landowners and communities provide public benefits from private lands. We are a valued partner of groups like the DNR, Dane County, Operation Fresh Start, Neighborhood Food Solutions, Southeast Asian Healing Center, local governments, and conservation-minded landowners. Our staff, board, and supporters have built strong relationships with partners and communities, and we are a trusted conservation resource for many.

Every year more people contribute more time and money to our cause and more people include us in their estate plans. Landowners, partners, and supporters tell wonderful stories about our work, and our events and field trips are popular ways to build community.


Over the next five years, we will provide lasting and significant benefits to our communities and to the environment. We aspire to achieve the promise of permanence in our work. We will center racial and climate justice in our organizational culture.  We will continue to innovate because we work in a rapidly growing region where people are spending less time outside and forging fewer connections to nature, and because land is in high demand and not accessible to all people in the communities Groundswell serves. Further, in our increasingly diverse world, people have new and different needs for land and nature.

To move forward in an equitable and inclusionary manner, projects and programs that reach Groundswell for consideration will be evaluated through our “Equity Lens”, an evolving tool that helps us evaluate how our actions advance or hinder our ability to create a world filled with green places where all communities thrive.  As of January 1, 2022, Groundswell’s Equity Lens consists of six questions to be considered of all potential projects, programs, or practices:

  1. Who is burdened?
  2. Who is benefited?
  3. What voices are at the table?
  4. What voices are missing?
  5. Does our evaluation process invite and encourage dissenting viewpoints?
  6. Is the project, program, or practice aligned with our values?


Protecting Land
We will permanently protect at least 3,000 acres of land in Dane County and the surrounding areas with an equitable approach to saving open spaces for nature and public enjoyment, meeting the diverse needs of all of our communities, and protecting high-quality farmland from development.

Community Preserves
We will make our preserves more welcoming to all people (and make more people aware of our properties) so that they will be more valued by all of our communities thanks to the recreation, conservation, mental, physical, and emotional health benefits they provide. Groundswell will provide more opportunities for young people to engage, learn, explore, and have fun in nature.

Equitable Access to Land and Nature
We will provide more places for people to grow food for local consumption, including by people who may benefit from the therapeutic value of growing food. We will improve land tenure and success for New American and Black, Indigenous, and people of color growers. Working with teams of parents and teachers, we will create more “green school yards” at community schools in Madison where all children can learn, explore, and have fun in nature right at their own schools. We will expand accessibility at our nature preserves for people of different abilities; some current projects include improvements to signage, parking lots and walkways.

Eliminating barriers for historically under-represented individuals in conservation careers
In partnership with Operation Fresh Start, we will support the growth of the Conservation Graduate Crew to provide a career path and work experience for young people of color in the field of conservation.


Climate Crisis
We will create community resiliency against flooding by protecting and managing wetlands around the Yahara chain of lakes and other important watersheds. We will explore reducing our carbon footprint by installing solar panels on our buildings at Westport Prairie. We will consider other climate crisis mitigation strategies as appropriate.

We will manage our preserves to improve wildlife habitat, reduce soil erosion, and improve soil health. Groundswell will plant an additional 25 acres of native prairie habitat at Patrick Marsh and 20 acres at Westport Prairie. We will reduce the amount of herbicide we use to restore and manage our prairies and savannas.

Water Quality

We will permanently protect and manage land to improve water quality in lakes and streams, focusing on wetland protection to reduce flooding and create clean water.


Funding for Perpetuity
Our Easement Enforcement Endowment will increase to cover 100% of the stewardship and defense needs of our conservation easements (from the current level of ~90%).

We will have a seamless transition to a new executive director in 2022. We will renew our accreditation with the Land Trust Alliance in 2020 and we will be well-prepared to apply for renewal in 2024.

Broad Base of Support
Our board, staff, volunteers, and event participants will be more representative of the communities we serve. More people will join us to protect special places forever.