Last week I attended a dedication ceremony for a newly acquired stretch of the Sugar River south of Paoli, named after the Neperud family who chose to sell the land to Dane County. Since being acquired earlier this year the DNR and the Southern Wisconsin chapter of Trout Unlimited have been working to improve this stretch of water through vegetation control and habitat restoration. Shawn Sullivan, DNR fisheries manager from the central sands area and leader of the Wild Rose habitat crew, gave an explanation of the work being done to a group of about 40 people that included TU members, Dane County personnel, NRCS employees, and local landowners. During a short break one of the NRCS guys joked about grabbing his spinning rod, and a member of the Wild Rose crew didn’t skip a beat.
“Wait ten minutes after we get out of the water,” he said, “and you’ll be able to catch fish here.”
The work here is impressive, having been completed without looking overdone or out of place with the natural landscape. Later, after a break for lunch, a couple of members of Southern Wisconsin Trout Unlimited and myself were standing around, talking about the project. Pat, a former board member and major supporter of the project, remarked on the ability to complete this work given the current political climate.
No doubt it has been a couple of rough years for conservation, both locally and across the country. Cuts to DNR staff resulted in the loss of scientist positions and the retirement of several experienced fisheries managers, and put a greater workload on those who remain. The DNR was also ordered by the legislature to sell off excess public lands, a directive that raised alarms when parcels identified for potential sale included several spring ponds in northern counties (it has since been determined that the spring pond parcels would remain in the public domain). The 2015 state budget eliminated all funding for state parks to the tune of $4.5 million. Several groundwater bills were introduced earlier this year that drew the ire of many conservation groups (and which I’ve discussed previously here). At the federal level, public lands are under threat of sale as well, leading to a groundswell of support and the rise of the hashtag #publiclandsproud.
It can be hard to remain positive when it seems like every time you turn around another piece of our outdoors heritage is being challenged. Last week’s event was an important one for buoying my spirits, and a reminder that there are many, many good deeds that need to be heralded just as much—and moreso—than the stuff on the other side of the coin.
So here’s some good news about local conservation efforts you may have missed, but you should certainly know about (spoiler alert: for the purists out there, you may want to avert your eyes as I give up some stream names):
-Dane County purchased land from the Neperud family, bordering the Sugar River near Paoli, totaling about a mile of shoreline. In conjunction with Southern Wisconsin Trout Unlimited (SWTU), they are paying to have the stretch of water restored to improve the trout fishery present.
-During the process of fundraising for the project, SWTU hoped to raise $20,000 to match $80,000 promised by the county. SWTU ended up raising $37,000 instead, a testament to the number of folks and organizations that saw the value in conserving coldwater resources. (Among those contributing grants included the Dane County Conservation League, the DNR, Badger Fly Fishers, the Madison Fishing Expo, Sitka Salmon Shares, and the Orvis Company.)
-The Aldo Leopold chapter of Trout Unlimited (ALCTU) completed their restoration of Manley Creek, an important Class I brook trout stream that flows entirely through public lands in the Baraboo Hills. (For those that decry me for spilling the beans on their favorite waters, here I offer the sacrifice of one of my favorite little pieces of heaven).
-Speaking of ALCTU, within the past year they also saw the completion of their ambitious restoration of Bear Creek, a $130,000 project several years in the making. The improved section is over 4 miles long and, by ALCTU’s measure, the longest continuous rehabilitated section of stream in Wisconsin. Just two weeks ago a public parking area was added along Highway 113, further improving access.
-The Wisconsin Society of Ornithology (WSO) is in the midst of purchasing a large tract of land adjacent to the existing Honey Creek Natural Area, which is expected to be completed by mid-2017. The parcel of land will connect with the current public land around it, and preserve a significant portion of the upper north branch of Honey Creek above Leland, which is rated as a Class II trout stream. (As you can imagine, it’s pretty damn good for birding, as well). Currently the WSO is looking to raise the final $160,000 needed to fund the half million dollar purchase.
-Just this afternoon I was informed lawmakers in Dane County have introduced a resolution to purchase a parcel of DNR land that includes a restored section of Token Creek (this was one of the land parcels identified by the DNR for sale last year). All indications are it should pass with little opposition.
I’m sure there are many more projects in various stages of completion across the state deserving of notice. If you’d like to add your knowledge of good things happening somewhere, please leave a comment below.
I was asked to say a few words at last week’s dedication as the president of SWTU, and most of those words were of thanks for the many, many people that made the preservation of the waterway possible. In a world that often feels polarizing, negative, and sometimes scary, it’s uplifting to look around and see good people doing good things for good places. It leaves me hopeful that, regardless of the challenges, the American legacy of public lands—and wild places—will not perish in our lifetime.