Cedar Gorge Preserve a done deal

A week after Evers earmarks state funds for preservation effort, Land Trust buys 131 acres on Port’s southeast side, transfers it to county to add to park system

A BANNER proclaiming the fact that the Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs Nature Preserve will be “forever conserved” was placed at the 131-acre property on Port Washington’s far southeast side last week by (from left) Ozaukee Washington Land Trust Executive Director Tom Stolp, Land Trust Operations Manager Marilyn Schlotfeldt, Lisa Leick, a member of the Land Trust’s Development and Communications Committee, and Development Director Leona Knobloch. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs Nature Preserve is officially Ozaukee County’s newest park.

The 131-acre tract on Port Washington’s far southeast side was purchased by the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust last Friday for $5 million, then transferred to Ozaukee County.

“It belongs to the people of Ozaukee County and will be preserved forever,” Land Trust Executive Director Tom Stolp said Friday afternoon. “Congratulations to us all — it’s great for the community.”

The Land Trust bought the property, which includes three-quarters of a mile of Lake Michigan shoreline and bluffs, from Waukesha State Bank, ending years of work to preserve the land.

The purchase came a week after Gov. Tony Evers announced he was awarding the project $2.3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding — putting the Land Trust over its fundraising goal.

The quick turnaround was possible because the county and Land Trust had been doing preparatory work for the closing over the past months, Stolp said.

“We were confident we would reach our goal,” he said — something he said was evident to him when schoolchildren were hosting lemonade stands to raise money for the preserve.

“I knew when we got to that point it wasn’t a question of if, it was a question of how and when we would have the money in hand,” he said.

It was important to both the Land Trust and county to buy the property quickly, Stolp added.

“This project has been unnecessarily delayed for a year,” he said. “Now we can begin the work of restoration.”

It’s too soon to say if any of the funds raised for the project can be used for the restoration, Stolp added, noting they are working with federal and state agencies to determine if that is a proper use and checking with donors as well.

Just because the Land Trust has turned the property over to Ozaukee County doesn’t mean it has washed its hands of the preserve, Stolp said.

“We will stay involved with Cedar Gorge,” he said.

The Land Trust will place a conservation easement over the entire property to add one more level of protection for the land, he said, a process that could take a couple months.

And it will work with the county to develop a management plan that will cover the next 10 years or so, he said.

“Cedar Gorge is in good hands with the county,” Stolp said.

The land purchase was the culmination of more than a decade of work on the part of the Land Trust and Ozaukee County, who have worked to put in place a plan to preserve the environmentally sensitive area and ensure public access to it.

The effort took numerous twists and turns, with development efforts proposed that included the nature preserve that never came to fruition. Ultimately, the Land Trust reached an agreement with the bank to buy the land, spurring a years-long fundraising effort.

They were approaching their fundraising goal with a combination of grants and private donations when the Department of Natural Resources awarded the project $2.3 million from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, with the project receiving one of the highest scores ever. But when the grant went to the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee for approval, an anonymous legislator objected to it, effectively stymieing the award.

A compromise award of $1.6 million was proposed, but an anonymous buyer stepped forward to say he would buy the parcel and develop it while preserving the important areas of the property, effectively killing the grant proposal.

That spurred an increased fundraising effort, which culminated on Aug. 18 with Evers’ announcement.

Stolp said that the Land Trust will now have more time to devote to its other projects, including working with private landowners to obtain conservation easements on natural areas and working lands, particularly those in the Milwaukee River watershed.

“People know us for our nature preserves, but more of the land we protect is conservation easement on private lands,” Stolp said.

The Land Trust is planning to expand its Youth Conservation Corps and is completing a year-long evaluation of its preserves, looking at climate resiliency, he added.

And as the Land Trust celebrates its 30th anniversary, it is also continuing work to improve many of its preserves, Stolp said.

That includes improvements to the parking lot, upgrading the historic pool house, removing invasive species and planting at Donges Bay Gorge in Mequon and doing restoration work at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve in the Town of Belgium.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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