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Ferry Bluff. Photo credit: Tim Escher


Celebrating 40 Years of Conservation

2023 marked Groundswell’s 40th anniversary. Our story (shared below) began in 1983 when a group of concerned citizens came together to protect a small, but important piece of land on the Lake Mendota shoreline. This group of people planted a seed that would lead to the creation of Dane County Natural Heritage Foundation, now known as Groundswell Conservancy.

I want to recognize Groundswell’s founders, as well as our staff, supporters, volunteers, and partners for the impressive accomplishments we’ve made these past four decades. Thank you for caring deeply about the land and for planting the “seeds” to help us protect nearly 14,000 acres of special places!

Together, with your generous support, we will continue to meet the challenges ahead and protect more special places. That means protecting farmland, conserving more wildlife habitat, providing equitable access to land, protecting our wetlands from a changing climate, and helping our youth connect to the outdoors through green schoolyards. It’s a grand challenge and an endeavor worthy of our best effort.

Most of all, we are grateful to you, to your continued enthusiasm and dedication. You inspire us and help make this important work possible.

Yours in conservation,

Angela West Blank
Executive Director

40 Years of Protecting our Special Places


First Decade

Yellow Coneflower  Flowers seen on the 2021 Yahara Heights Prairie Hike. © Ben Jones

Wally Bauman Woods  Wally Bauman Woods, outlined in yellow, was named in honor of Walter "Wally" Bauman, who played a key role in our founding. © Lakeshore Nature Preserve


Our founding project! Originally named Dane County Natural Heritage Foundation, Groundswell Conservancy was formed to purchase and protect Lower Eagle Heights Woods along Lake Mendota. This special place is now Wally Bauman Woods -- part of the UW Lakeshore Nature Preserve.

Dr. Watts conveying easement to AFT  Dr Alice Watts with board president Norman C. Anderson (right) and AFT president Ralph Grossi at the dedication of the Watts Farms Conservation Easement.


On the lead of American Farmland Trust, we placed our first conservation easement on Dr. Alice Watts’ uplands near Waubesa Wetlands. Groundswell now holds more than 80 conservation easements. Our Easement Enforcement Fund endowment at Madison Community Foundation ensures we can steward these easements in perpetuity.

Cherokee Marsh  Cherokee Marsh, Dane County's largest wetland, is located at the head of the chain of Yahara lakes. © Mario Quintana


Our first land purchase protected wetlands at Cherokee Marsh in 1991. Since then, we have protected six more properties at Cherokee Marsh totaling more than 425 acres. We are proud to have helped protect this wetland gem, the largest in Dane County.


Groundswell is the first nonprofit approved for a Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program grant. We used the funds for two conservation easements along Token Creek. Since then, we've received more than $16 million in Stewardship grants and protected more than 60 properties.

Ruth Oppedahl  © Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin


Ruth Oppedahl, Program Director, becomes our first paid staff person in 1993.

Token Creek  Token Creek is the primary contributor of water to the Yahara River and consequentially is the largest contributor to the water of Madison’s Lake Mendota.


Received our first grant from Madison Community Foundation. These funds made possible the Token Creek Streambank easement project.


Second Decade

Pasque flowers  Pasque flowers are the first signs of spring at Westport Prairie. © Tony Abate

Sinaiko Family  Sinaiko dedication on hill at what is now the Dunn Park. Left to Right, Beth Hastings, Jocelyn Jacobs, Jan Zimmerman, Connie Campbell, Vicki Elkin, Brian Hotz, Brian Ohm.


Completed our first joint land protection project with the Town of Dunn in 1997, purchasing land from the Sinaiko family.

Fish Lake Heron  Our community's natural treasures include a wealth of lakes. The most common and serious threats to lakes is stormwater runoff and shoreline development. © Bill Pielsticker


Our Fish Lake campaign was a success! Groundswell raised $3.06 million over 2 years. These funds helped preserve 140 acres of shoreline, woodlands, and farmland at one of Dane County's aquatic gems in 1999.

Bob Bolz  The Bolz family also donated what is now the Bolz Conservancy Park to Groundswell in 2001.


In 2000, the Bolz family established Groundswell's first endowment fund at Madison Community Foundation (MCF). Since then, we have received more than $160,000 in distributions from this endowment. We now have 3 endowments at MCF. Bob Bolz, on right, was a founding member and served on the board from 1983-1995.

NHLT logo  Our work had expanded outside of Dane County and we are a land trust, not a Foundation. © Ben Jones


In 2002, we changed our name from Dane County Natural Heritage Foundation to Natural Heritage Land Trust.

JW and Curt the Cardinal  Jim devoted his professional career to land conservation, working in Wisconsin, California, Michigan, and Washington, DC with leading conservation groups. He continues to volunteer with Groundswell. © Angie Banks


Jim Welsh joined Groundswell in 2003 as Executive Director, hailing from the Nature Conservancy. Jim led Groundswell for almost half its lifetime, retiring in February 2022.


Third Decade

Farm Fields  Dane County and its surrounding area is home to some of the richest farm soil in the United States. © Roberta Herschleb

Patrick Marsh press event  Left to right: State Representative Gary Hebl, Patrick Marsh Conservancy president Jeanne Behrend, Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, City of Sun Prairie mayor Joe Chase.


Purchased our first addition to Patrick Marsh Wildlife Area in 2004. Groundswell now owns nearly 100 acres at Patrick Marsh and is responsible for managing and restoring Wisconsin DNR's lands at this special place.

Botany with BJ  Field trips are free and open to the public. Get out on the land with us! © Roberta Herschleb


Started our field trip program, giving supporters an opportunity to visit the places they've helped protect. Here is BJ Byers, Groundswell's Conservationist, leading Botany with BJ at Westport Prairie.

Prairie Partners Crew  2013 crew members. The Partners in the program include Madison Audubon, Friends of Cherokee Marsh, Friends of Lakeshore Nature Preserve, Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy.


Joined the Prairie Partners program in 2012. This collaboration between 5 local conservation organizations shares a 5-person summer intern crew. This program helps us restore and manage Patrick Marsh and Westport Prairie. Tony Abate, our Conservation Director was an intern in 2013 (middle of photo)!

Black Hawk Ridge Trail Run  The 8K and 16K courses take runners through a restored prairie, hardwood forest, and pine plantation with views of the Wisconsin River valley and beyond. © Roberta Herschleb


Willi Van Haren and his fellow Black Hawk Ridge Trail Run coordinators choose Groundswell to be the beneficiary of their annual fundraiser. This event takes place every October on the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway.

Accreditation Celebration  Former board member, Darcy Kind, hosted an accreditation celebration with some founders, board and staff.


In 2013, we became an accredited land trust by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission. Accreditation is awarded to land trusts meeting the highest national standards for excellence and conservation permanence. We are 1 of 16 land trusts in Wisconsin (as of March 2023).


Fourth Decade

Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillar  BJ our Conservationist captured this photo out at Patrick Marsh and writes about findings like these in his monthly "Nature Now" emails. They are a virtual tour of nature as it's happening. Sign up today to receive nature in your in-box! © BJ Byers

Wolf Run Trail  Wolf Run Trail is a two mile, 10-foot wide crushed gravel path from the Village of Mazomanie to Wisconsin Heights High School. The trail is open to the public year around for multiple recreational uses. © Angie Banks


Secured the last piece of land for the Wolf Run Trail between Mazomanie and the Wisconsin Heights High School in 2014. Black Earth Creek valley is a priority area where our perseverance has paid off -- more than 1,200 acres protected. The long-term goal is a trail connecting Middleton with Sauk City!

John Muir land dedication  Supporters had an opportunity to explore the trail during the land dedication in 2018. © Brant Erickson


Protected John Muir's family farm in Marquette County in 2014. John Muir was instrumental in creating the National Parks. Groundswell donated the land to two entities - US Fish & Wildlife and the Ice Age Trail Alliance to extend their trail.

Yimmuaj Yang & Family by Westport Prairie sign  Westport Prairie is a 227-acre wildlife area on the east side of Waunakee, WI. With 1.5 miles of trails, visitors are invited to explore the prairies and 14-acre drumlin.


Purchased the Koltes farmstead in 2015, a new gateway to Westport Prairie just east of Waunakee. This was our 4th addition to Westport Prairie, now totaling 227 acres.

Town of Dunn 20th Anniversary picnic  Groundswell and the Town of Dunn hosted a 20th anniversary potluck at Dunn Park, our first joint purchase. © Ben Jones


In 2017 we celebrated our 20-year partnership with the Town of Dunn and their Purchase of Development Right program. Groundswell co-holds more than 30 easements with the Town. More than 20% of the town is protected due to conservation efforts.

Lake View Elementary outdoor classroom ribbon cutting  We included the Lake View Elementary students in all aspects of this conservation project, from donor tours to the land closing. © Ben Jones


In 2017, we saved the woods at Lake View Elementary! This project expanded the school's outdoor classroom. With the help of Operation Fresh Start, we also built a nature course to connect the students and community with nature.

Groundswell logo  A view of the Wisconsin River from Louis' Bluff, a Wisconsin Dells landmark, protected forever with a conservation easement. © Mario Quintana


In 2017, we changed out name from Natural Heritage Land Trust to Groundswell Conservancy. We may have a new name, but we have the same purpose as when we started in the 1980s - to protect special places, forever.

Robert Pierce and youth  Robert Pierce in the driver's seat, with participants of his PEAT program (Program for Entrepreneurial and Agricultural Training). © Ben Jones


In 2018, we purchased land in Fitchburg from Brian Pasley, some of which is the headwaters to Waubesa Wetlands. Named Pasley's Swan Creek Farm, we partner with Robert Pierce of Neighborhood Food Solutions to offer urban agricultural programming to youth and adults.

Westport Farm HMoob elder  "I am so happy to know that I will have access to land to grow, to walk around, enjoy nature and to relax. But most importantly, there are people who are supportive of the garden and care about all of us elders" ~Xao Cha © Ben Jones


Also in 2018, we purchased our second farm - Westport Farm. Peg Whiteside sold us this land at a discount to provide land tenure to a group of Hmong farmers. Since then, we've partnered with the Southeast Asian Healing Center to establish the Lifting Hearts Therapy Garden for Hmoob elders on this land.

Marsh Madness of Learning event  Patrick Marsh Middle School students, along with Sonya Sankaran (pictured here), teach Sun Prairie Elementary School students about nature at the annual Marsh Madness of Learning at Patrick Marsh. © Focal Flame Photography


A series of visitor improvements and local partnerships continue to transform Patrick Marsh. Highlights: wildlife viewing platform, three prairie plantings, a 26-acre addition, a new phoenix sculpture, two new boardwalks, new mowed trails, restoration work by Operation Fresh Start, volunteers, and Prairie Partners interns, and the annual Marsh Madness of Learning.

Nancy McGill on the right   Nancy McGill has been volunteering in the Groundswell office one day a week since 2012. Gathering Waters' Conservation Leadership Awards honored Nancy as Volunteer of the Year in 2023. © Althea Dotzour Photography


Renewed our accreditation in 2020. Maintaining our accreditation ensured our supporters and partners that Groundswell meets the highest ethical and stewardship standards. Our dedicated volunteer, Nancy McGill, was instrumental in both our accreditation and renewal.

Linden Cohousing farmers market  Groundswell and Linden Cohousing continue to host a farmers market on Thursdays from 3:00 - 6:00 pm from late May to mid September at 2082 Winnebago St, Madison. © Ben Jones


With the closure of farmers markets in 2020 due to COVID, Groundswell and Linden Cohousing began sponsoring an east-side market where Hmong growers sell produce to neighbors.

Westport Parkland  Birds-eye view of protected land on the corner of County M and Woodland Dr, Waunakee. © Ben Jones


In December 2022, we helped the Town of Westport purchase and protect 105 acres of grassland, wetlands, and oak woods. This was our most expensive land project ever. With this addition, there's an almost unbroken corridor of protected public land around the north side of Lake Mendota, stretching from Governor Nelson State Park to WI Highway 113.

Groundswell’s Founding Story

The year was 1983, and environmental leaders across Dane County had come together in a courageous effort to protect the last piece of land in a corridor stretching from the UW Madison campus to Picnic Point.

Known at the time as the Lower Eagle Heights Woods, the cherished 3.4-acre parcel and home to an infinite variety of native plants and some 30 species of nesting birds, was being eyed for a condominium project.

When reports of the impending condo development hit the local news, concerned citizens sprang into action. They launched a community effort to “Save the Woods” championed by environmental attorney Bill O’Connor and mayoral aide David Chandler. Mayor Joe Sensenbrenner formed a steering committee, chaired by former Assembly Speaker Norm Anderson. This committee established the Dane County Natural Heritage Foundation (now known as Groundswell Conservancy) – a land trust – to serve Madison, Dane County and the region. (Norm served as our organization’s president for its first five years.)

Dane County Board members Wally Bauman and Bill Lunney also took up the cause, educating reluctant colleagues about the wider significance of the leafy green lakefront parcel. Other preservationists, including Diane Derouen, Sharon Gaskill, Jean Meanwell, and Nancy Heiden, attended public hearings convened by the City Park Commission, the Plan Commission, and the City Commission on the Environment. Madison Audubon President Glenn Chambliss and volunteer attorney Walter Kuhlman enthusiastically worked to protect the woods and support the formation of new land trust.

The Wisconsin State Journal picked up on the issue as well, publishing numerous articles and soliciting private donations through a “Save the Woods” campaign. Jim Zimmerman, Diane Derouen, and Bill Roark received an Orchid award from the Capitol Community Citizens for their efforts.

Finally, in one of the most amazing land deals at the time, the property was purchased for preservation — with contributions from the UW ($100,000), the city of Madison ($80,000), Dane County ($40,000), and more than $30,000 in private funds from the State Journal’s campaign. The remaining funds were provided by a federal matching grant.

To ensure the land would never be developed, the new Dane County Natural Heritage Foundation placed a conservation easement on the property. The woods were now protected and renamed in honor of Wally Bauman, who, unfortunately died before the deal was completed.

“I’ve been so impressed at the way Groundswell has evolved,” says Bill O’Connor. “The group has come a long way from those days when a group of concerned citizens banded together to save a small piece of lakefront woods.”

Thank you to our founders, listed below, for their time, energy, and commitment to creating a land trust to protect special places forever.

Our Founders (in alphabetical order)

Norman C. Anderson Sherman Geib Kenneth Opin
Wally Bauman Nancy Heiden Harry & Sylvia Peterson
Robert Bolz Joseph Hickey John Proctor
Katherine Bradley Hugh Iltis Louise & Walter Scott
David Chandler Bea Kabler Joe Sensenbrenner
Nan Cheney Walter Kuhlman Irving shain
Diane Derouen & Glenn Chambliss Bill Lunney Horace Tenney
Cal DeWitt Nancy & Howard Mead Mary Trewartha
Bill Feist Jean & Walter Meanwell Bill Wineke
Eve Galanter Mary Mullen Si Widstrand
Sharon Gaskill Bill O’Connor Martin Wolman
James Zimmerman

Executive Directors

Ruth Oppedahl (1991-1998)
Danielle Wood (1998 – 2003)
Jim Welsh (2003 – 2022)
Angela West Blank (2022 – Present)