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Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM   
Wednesday, 04 October 2017 18:00

The Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, started 25 years ago by residents concerned about land in Port and Mequon, has today preserved more than 6,700 acres

   Twenty-five years ago, a small group of Ozaukee County residents gathered to pool their resources and preserve properties in Port Washington and Mequon.
    Their work paid off. Development was staved off, and both the Sauk Creek Nature Preserve in Port and Highland Woods in Mequon remain in their natural state.
    Today, the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust stands as a symbol of what determined citizens can achieve, protecting more than 6,700 acres in the two counties — including two new preserves in the Town of Saukville that were added to the Land Trust’s portfolio in the last month.
    “We just closed on these, so we don’t even have signs up there,” said Tom Stolp, the Land Trust’s executive director.
    They include a 74-acre parcel off Highway Y that had been owned for 50 years by Dave Kinnamon, Stolp said.
   WOODS LG “It’s a really important property,” he said, noting the rolling land is at the headwaters of Cedar Creek.
    Kinnamon had “lovingly maintained” a prairie on the property and stocked a one-acre pond through the years, Stolp added.
    The other property, about 60 acres off Blue Goose Road near the Cedarburg Bog, had been owned by Ed and Janet Beimborn, Stolp said. Mr. Beimborn’s family had owned the land for decades.
    “When the time was right to sell the land, they contacted us,” Stolp said, noting the land is not only an important parcel but one that is precious to the family.
    Both parcels were purchased with funds from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District’s Greenseams program and the Department of Natural Resources stewardship program, he said.
    These purchases are just the latest success stories for the Land Trust.
    “I don’t even want to think of the natural treasures that would have been lost if the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust hadn’t been here to place them into permanent protection,” Marjie Tomter, president of the group’s board of directors, said.
    The Land Trust has 32 preserves, each of them unique, Stolp said, and easily accessible from virtually every community in the two counties.
    But the bulk of its protected lands are privately held. Conservation easements ensure these lands will never be developed.
    “The land owners are actually donating the right of that land to be developed, which is a very generous thing,” Stolp said. “The reason we’ve thrived is we have beautiful natural resources and people feel a connection to the land — but also because we have generous people.”
    The Land Trust’s impact, according to Bill Schanen III, publisher of Ozaukee Press and a former member of the organization’s board of directors, has been magnified by the group’s success in securing public access to some of the most significant natural areas in Ozaukee County.
    “The Land Trust has done good work in protecting hundreds of acres of privately owned land through conservation easements,” Schanen said, “but where it has really shined is in preserving natural areas and at the same time opening them to the public through partnerships with government.”
    He noted that the Land Trust, working with Ozaukee County and the Town of Grafton, “was instrumental in the creation of the spectacular Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve on the Lake Michigan shore and in the proposed nature preserve in the City of Port Washington’s Vineyards development.”
    Other publicly accessible natural areas that owe their existence wholly or in part to the Land Trust include the Sauk Creek Nature Preserve in Port Washington, Forest Beach Migratory Preserve in the Town of Belgium and the Mequon Nature Center and Donges Bay Gorge in the City of Mequon.
    “There’s really something special about having a rustic, natural area where you feel you’re up north, away from home,” Stolp said, noting there’s a difference between parkland and preserves.  
    “If you go to parks, you have playground equipment, lots of people,” Tomter said. “If you go to a preserve, it’s trails. It’s quieter. It’s a step deeper into nature.”
    In addition, these areas provide vital habitat for wildlife, raised awareness of the need for conservation and spurred people to get involved in environmental issues, Tomter said.
    “It’s engaged a lot of people in understanding how the environment works and connected them to the land,” she said.
    But perhaps the hallmark of the Land Trust is the way it has connected public and private resources to protect these lands, Stolp said.
    “The organization was born out of a partnership,” he said — one formed when the Sauk Creek Nature Preserve in Port joined with the Ozaukee Land Trust in Mequon.
    Former Port mayor Joe Dean, who was a member of the Sauk Creek Nature Preserve, recalled the combined group’s first meeting around his kitchen table.
    “We were so green, somebody had to bring a copy of Robert’s Rules so we knew how to run a meeting,” he said.
    But the group, which in 1998 added Washington County, was united in its determination to protect natural areas, Dean said.
    “The rest is history,” he added. “One of the things I really admire is they’re both a catalyst for preservation and a conduit for multiple agencies to work cooperatively.
    “I like their proactive approach. They’re apolitical, forward looking. They purchase land before it becomes part of urban sprawl.
    “It’s just incredible what they’ve accomplished.”
    And that, he added, is due to the dedicated volunteers and leadership in the organization.
    “At our core, we’re still a volunteer agency. They’re the heart and soul of the organization,” Stolp said, although the Land Trust has eight full-time employees.
    Their work will have an impact on the county and its residents for generations, Tomter added.
    “There are a lot of things that are obvious, but others that aren’t so obvious,” she said. “But it all works together for our main goal of long-term protection of the land and water resources we need.”

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