BRC Conserves Spider Lake Waterfront
Michael and Margaret O’Sullivan bought their first property on Spider Lake near Hayward in Sawyer County in 1975 and, as Michael put it, “over the years, our whole family has come to absolutely treasure our little corner of the Northwoods.”
So much so that now they have taken steps to protect some of it forever. The O’Sullivans have donated a conservation easement on eight acres of mostly forested land that abuts their lakeside home, guaranteeing it will never be developed. In addition to keeping the protected property as a buffer against development, the easement is meant to preserve the land as wildlife habitat and help protect the water quality of Spider Lake and surrounding waters.
And, as the first conservation easement established on the Spider Chain of Lakes, Michael O’Sullivan said, it may inspire other owners to consider the benefits of such permanent protections for their own property. While his neighbors are not yet aware of the easement, he expects they will be receptive to the O’Sullivans’ efforts to protect against increased development. “God willing, we plan to have all of our neighbors over sometime next summer and make the announcement personally to them. My hope is that they will all be as enthusiastic as we are,” says O’Sullivan.
The easement will be held by the Bayfield Regional Conservancy, a land trust that works with property owners to protect air, water and land within 4 counties of Northwestern Wisconsin. Conservation easements are perpetual legal agreements between property owners and land trusts or similar bodies in which the owner places restrictions to protect the natural values of the land. Restrictions can vary, allowing uses desired by the owner while prohibiting unwanted development. The owner retains all rights of ownership while the land trust monitors compliance with the restrictions going forward.
O’Sullivan said he and his wife began considering the benefits of conservation a few years ago after learning about its benefits from a friend on their local lake association. Having watched the value of lake property increase so dramatically in recent years, O’Sullivan had concluded that the next push for development would come on backlots such as his, which had already been subdivided into 4 lots by the previous owner, each with its own legal access to Spider Lake.
“It seemed a shame to us that it could be crowded with new development,” he said. “Protecting this land was important to us. Margaret and I talked about it a lot before we decided this is what we wanted to do.”
The easement will prohibit development by the O’Sullivans and any future owners of the property, but does allow owners to continue to use the property for any purposes consistent with protecting the land’s conservation values. O’Sullivan said the financial investment in obtaining the easement will be easily offset by the permanent benefits of protecting the property. And if their decision inspires neighbors to take similar actions, he said, it will have been even more worth the effort.
“It’s small,” he said. “It’s a small easement, but strategically it’s significant.” Erika Lang, the conservation director for Bayfield Regional Conservancy, agrees. “Hopefully, Michael and Margaret’s vision acts as a catalyst among other area landowners, and results in more landowners making good stewardship decisions for their properties and surrounding areas. Shoreland protection is especially important to protect wildlife habitat and water quality, and property values. Setting up conservation easements is one of the best tools to protect these values that we all cherish.”
BRC Welcomes 3 New Easement Holders
One property owner in Sawyer County saw encroaching development near his property and wanted no part of it. Another in southern Bayfield County, the fourth-generation to live on a small lake his great-grandfather had named, wanted protections that couldn’t by undone by future owners or government actions. And yet another owner who lives in a cabin she built herself wanted protections against development not just for herself but also for the wildlife that shares her wooded land.
Their parcels vary in size and natural features and their motives differed slightly but their shared vision of land protection will be achieved thanks to conservation easements approved recently by The Bayfield Regional Conservancy. The easements extend into perpetuity, putting development restrictions not just on current owners but on all future owners as well.
Abett Icks, whose easement covers the 27-acre parcel on Little Bass Lake near Cable where she has lived since 1976, said she had thought about getting a conservation easement for nearly a decade before finally acting.
“I always felt it should be protected,” she said. “I wish I had a hundred more acres and I’d protect it all. I look around the world and see so much destruction. Now, I can sleep at night.”
Conservation easements are legal agreements between property owners and land trusts or similar bodies in which the owner places restrictions to protect the natural values of the land. Restrictions can vary, allowing uses desired by the owner while prohibiting unwanted development. The owner retains all rights of ownership while the land trust monitors compliance with the restrictions going forward.
Steve Dahl, who donated an easement on his 57 acres on the East Fork of the Chippewa River in the Town of Winter in Sawyer County, said seeing development on a property just down the river motivated him.
“It was a beautiful property…that got chopped up and developed into 200-foot lots,” he said. “We just said we can never let it happen to this (land).”
Dahl, who lives in the Twin Cities but has owned the land since 1982, said the process of settling on the language of the easement was difficult at times but the final product offers the protections he was seeking with sufficient flexibility to replace a small, rustic cabin with a new one. In the meantime, he will continue to visit often to plant red and white pines and, with the guidance of a good forester, managed the property’s varied ecosystems. The property has coniferous and hardwood forest, ponds and wetlands and Chippewa River frontage.
“That’s what we enjoy,” he said. “It’s just fun for us to be up there. You go in there and all these areas are available, and they will be available forever. I’m not going to be around forever, my son’s not going to be around forever, my grandson’s not going to be around forever (but) I think I’ve done what I can to protect it in perpetuity.”
Joseph Brady’s easement covers just 15 acres on Lake Wilipyro in the Town of Drummond but the property has significance to him far beyond its size. His great-grandfather was the first resident on the lake and even helped name it by using the initials of early owners. Brady, who has degrees in forestry with an emphasis on shoreline protection, also had thought for a number of years about donating an easement, especially when a neighbor and friend who was a board member of Bayfield Regional Conservancy took the same action for his property. Noting that elected officials in state government have been making changes to local shoreline protection rules, Brady said he was further persuaded when his neighbor said, “you can’t count on the people in Madison to protect your property.
“Well, now it’s protected. Yes, it’s money (to obtain an easement) but what are you going to do. The truth of the matter is we’ve done quite well since 1914 (but) we just can’t know what’s going to happen in the future. I have to accept that I have to do my part, just like I’m asking future generations to do their part.”
Brady said he initially had concerns about the potential impact of an easement on future resale but decided protecting the property was more important. Icks said she, too, considered the issue of future sales but determined in the end the easement would add to her property’s value, not detract.
Most people who move to northern Wisconsin do so for the quiet, for the woods and water that would be protected by an easement, she said, adding it was enjoyment of the outdoors as a child that drew her to northern Wisconsin.
“It’s a wonderful place to be, and it will be for someone else and the next person and the next person,” she said. “It enhances the value of the property, it absolutely does. It enhances it totally.”
Erika Lang, conservation director for Bayfield Regional Conservancy, said each of the properties covered by the new easements come with a conservation bonus because each abuts other public lands. “They are really important properties in terms of wildlife corridors,” she said. “Each of these landowners donated specific property rights to the Conservancy so that the conservation values will be protected forever," Lang said. "From now on the Conservancy is responsible for assuring that all current and future property owners will use the land in such a manner that these publicly recognized conservation values will remain."
By Dennis McCann
Roger Dreher bought his first parcel of land on little Lake Wilipyro near Drummond in 1983 and began building a house on the property two years later, a project that would take “every weekend and day of vacation for the next seven years.”
Last fall an adjacent parcel came up for sale and Dreher bought that, too, reasoning that as long as he owned both there would be no further development or shoreline disruption on the small lake he has come to regard as a special place.
“Then I started thinking, this is fine as long as I’m here,” Dreher said, which raised the obvious question of how long that would be. Not forever, he knew.
“That’s when I became serious about protecting it for the long term.”
Now he has. This fall, Dreher obtained a conservation easement that will protect his roughly 15 acres of mixed conifer and hardwood forests, along with 630 feet of shoreline, into perpetuity. And in working with the Bayfield Regional Conservancy to draft and complete the easement Dreher offered a textbook example of what is meant by practicing what you preach. For the last five years he has served on the board of BRC, whose mission it is to protecting land and water resources in northern Wisconsin, often through just such conservation easements.
“I think if I’m going to be active on the board and believe in their mission and I had a chance to do it myself,” he said, “then (the easement) became important. It was one more chance to eliminate the possibility of (further development) on this lake.”
Dreher said his first step was identifying the conservation values that would be served by such an easement, including shoreline protection, providing habitat for many species of wildlife and birds, along with aquatic birds and animals on a portion that includes a tamarack wetland. Protecting the property also would serve as a buffer from other development in the watershed that would protect the water quality not only of Lake Wilipyro but other waters downstream. Dreher said such protections were in concert with both the Bayfield County Comprehensive Plan and the Town of Drummond Lake Use Plan, which calls for preserving the area’s “northwoods character,” shorelines, wildlife habitat and protecting surface water quality while limiting overdevelopment of shorelines.
The easement was also in keeping with Dreher’s longtime work with inland lake associations. Protecting 15 acres on Lake Wilipyro, which Dreher said “nobody knows anything about, because it’s a real small lake,” is a much smaller project and carries a lower profile than many easements that BRC has taken on, but Dreher said it was important in other ways. Inland lakes can best be protected against water quality degradation and loss of habitat and scenic beauty, he said, when individual owners step up and eliminate the possibility of piecemeal development in the future.
“If we’re going to preserve inland lakeshores for the long term it’s going to be a parcel by parcel by parcel thing,” he said. “One landowner at a time.”
Already, he said, he is working to inform some of his neighbors about his reasons for granting an easement in hopes they will consider the same course. His experience in drafting the easement and getting it approved by BRC could serve as a template for others to follow, he said, perhaps reducing the expense of preparing and approving similar easements.
Dreher noted that the easement, while preventing further development of the property,
is flexible enough for him to continue to use and enjoy his home and even expand the house or
garage if he wishes. BRC, the non-profit regional land trust founded in 1996, will annually
monitor the property to ensure other terms of the easement are met.
By Dennis McCann
It was only as fitting as it was widely expected by friends that one of Lowell Klessig’s last acts before his death in August would be to permanently protect his beloved 80 acres of farmstead and woodland near Highbridge in Ashland County with a conservation easement. His life’s work and his heart’s passion had been in environmental stewardship and the rustic property he had called “The Un-Hilton” was the beneficiary of both that labor and love.
However, his goal was not to preserve the onetime Finnish homestead as a static site. Klessig, whose wife, Christine, called her husband a “philosophical farmer,” had long valued such property not only for its innate aesthetic values but also for the human connections that were inevitably present.
Thus, the easement Klessig drafted prohibits subdivision or industrial or commercial use, but allows for the former orchard, pastures or hayfields to be made productive again if the landowners, in this case his two sons, should ever want that. They and their guests can also use the land for hiking, skiing, hunting, fishing or studying nature, pursuits the land has offered to Klessig and others in the past.
Kim Bro, Klessig’s longtime friend and member of the board of the Bayfield Regional Conservancy, the agency to which Klessig granted the easement, said the move was wholly in keeping with Klessig’s understanding of the human side of environmental protection.
Klessig believed “that land was not just a decoration,” said Bro, “that land has productive qualities. It wasn’t, ‘ain’t this pretty, I’m just going to set it aside.’ It’s ‘yes, it’s pretty, but it’s also going to be put to work.’”
Klessig, 69, died Aug. 8 of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare disease that affects one in a million people. A member of the Bayfield Regional Conservancy since 2024, Klessig made it a priority to complete the easement before his death.
Klessig acquired the 80-acre Poppe family homestead, complete with 1910 Finnish dove-tail corner log home, more than 35 years ago when he worked as deputy director of the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute. He later worked as a Lake District Specialist for the UW-Extension, helping lake property owners across the state develop stewardship plans and lake districts. His first conservation easement was granted for property he and Christine owned at their home in Amherst in Portage County, but he maintained his connections to Ashland County, sharing “The Un-Hilton” with friends and family and, further, sharing his belief in land stewardship.
Bro said Klessig was bothered by the increasingly commercial celebration of Christmas so he developed a personal holiday more suited to the land, the annual Fall Colors Festival that combined a half-day of work followed by the tapping of a keg and meals cooked on the wood-burning cast iron cook stove.
“He would invite hundreds of people, and the ones who took him up (on it) he would always make room for,” said Bro. Lodging was on cots or in tents or teepees and often the work included improvements on the original log home, which was served running water from a spring just uphill from the house. Klessig’s favorite spot on the property, though, was a granite outcropping known as “the perch,” which overlooked the Penokee Hills and where he and Christine celebrated their wedding.
In describing the conservation values that merited the property a permanent easement, Klessig included protecting wetlands and streams, forests and natural wildlife habitats and related qualities. But Bro said it was important for him to leave open the possibility of future use of agricultural acreage because it was not enough to protect only its scenic beauty and history.
“It’s really part of what he loved about the place,” Bro said.
“It is comforting,” said his wife, Chris, “to know that this loved and cherished piece of the Wisconsin Northwoods will be protected for future generations.”
North Pikes Creek and Big Ravine Headwaters Added to Bayfield Regional Conservancy's Accomplishments
Protecting the natural places of Northwestern Wisconsin has been entrusted to the Bayfield Regional Conservancy (BRC) and this week they celebrate two newly acquired and remarkable places that coincidentally are headwaters. “Within a week’s time we closed on the purchase of 40 acres at the top of Bayfield’s much loved Big Ravine” said Meghan Dennison, executive director at BRC, “and purchased 280 acres that will forever protect the wetlands feeding North Pikes Creek.” Both flow into Lake Superior and provide invaluable habitat for migratory birds and more.
“Anytime you can protect an entire watershed, it is protecting a community,” says Dennison.
“The North Pikes Creek Wetland (NPCW) purchase is a great example of how BRC is working together with the diverse community of stakeholders in the area toward the protection and care of an entire watershed,” says Tracy Hames, executive director of Wisconsin Wetlands Association.
The Bayfield Regional Conservancy has been working on these two projects for over a year and although they are not” entire” yet, their headwaters are crucial. “It is hard to find a watershed that runs clear from its source to its mouth,” says Dennison. Many factors contribute to water quality including development and forest management practices.
The community, adjacent landowners, local governments and special interest groups all collaborated to set in motion a complex series of events in order to make this happen. As a result the BRC was awarded both state and federal grants. “It would not have been possible if all four landowners were not willing to sell their lands,” says Kim Bro, former chair of BRC’s Land Projects committee and current board member.
The Big Ravine properties were purchased with funding from Wisconsin’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program (WKNSP) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Joint Venture Habitat Restoration and Protection Program’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The North Pikes Creek Wetland was purchased by WKNSP funds and the US Forest Service Community Forest Program.
One of the sellers, FutureWood, owned 240 acres of actively managed forestland along North Pikes Creek but was supportive of protecting the property long-term for habitat, water quality and public enjoyment. The area’s extensive wetlands absorb run-off from three directions and replenish seeps, springs and water tables for miles around. “We rely heavily on the integrity of the perched water table up here,” says Rick Dale, owner of Highland Valley Farm just outside of Bayfield.
In a sense, when a wetland dries up so does the fruit business. The apple trees above Bayfield “like their toes tickled by water,” says Dale. “We need to work more closely with nature.” Dale was thrilled that the BRC and community friends of North Pikes Creek had indeed acquired the land.
NPCW also protects a Class 1 trout stream. Its numerous beaver dams slow the flow and in-turn reduce flooding and bank erosion down-stream.
As for the Ravine, “I remember as kids we used to slide down the steep sides of the Big Ravine and play in the woods,” says Don Olson. He would like to see others “enjoy the big trees that haven’t been cut for years.” A passion for the ravine dates back in Olson’s family whose grandparents owned the property. Don and his sister Betty always thought the Big Ravine should be protected for future generations. “It was a special historic area,” says Don who spoke of the logs that were once skidded down the ravine to the Bayfield lumber mill.
Amongst birders the ravine is known for the ethereal and seductive ‘whirling down a metallic pipe’ song of the veery. Considered a Wisconsin Species of Greatest Conservation Need and a Partners in Flight Priority Bird, the veery thrives in the ravine’s large, unfragmented, mixed forest and undulating slopes of cedar, hemlock, pine and hardwoods. “The place seems wild, like the way nature intended,” says a nearby resident who is surprised given its close proximity to downtown Bayfield.
Both lands will be managed for their recreational and educational opportunities including trails while protecting their conservation values. The BRC will work with “Friends of North Pikes Creek Wetland” who helped secure the grants and raise additional funds for both properties. Thanks to a grant from the John C. Bock Foundation the BRC will convey the ravine property to the Town of Bayfield with a conservation easement, adding it to their over 160 acres already publicly protected.
The John C. Bock Foundation supports qualifying conservation organizations that are directly engaged in the preservation and protection of landscapes containing mature woodlands and old-growth forests.
“In protecting these two important watersheds and leaving them in their natural, intact condition, we are helping to minimize erosion and sedimentation, one of the most significant environmental problems in the Great Lakes ecosystem,” says Erika Lang, conservation director at BRC. “People committed to good stewardship,” the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care, “is why we were able to get these properties,” adds Lang.
For Immediate Release
For more information, contact: Ellen Kwiatkowski, 715-779-5263
A national commission that reviews the work of land trusts has awarded the Bayfield Regional Conservancy its highest rating for excellence and professionalism in its conservation efforts.
BRC becomes one of just a handful of Wisconsin land trusts to be awarded accreditation by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance. Only 158 land trusts across the nation have been awarded land trust accreditation, and the Conservancy is one of four in Wisconsin (Wisconsin has around 57 land trusts). Two of those four, Caledonia Conservancy and Mississippi Valley Conservancy were awarded at the same time as the Bayfield Regional Conservancy.
“Accredited land trusts meet national quality standards for protecting important natural places and working lands forever,” said Commission Executive Director Tammara Van Ryn.
The award follows a lengthy and rigorous external review of BRC governance and the systems and policies it uses to protect land, said Ellen Kwiatkowski, executive director of BRC. She said the review was important not only for proving to the accreditation commission that BRC met national qualifying standards, but was also a helpful self-examination for conservancy staff members and the BRC board.
While the application process was both time-consuming and laborious, “Bayfield Regional Conservancy is a stronger organization today for having gone through the demanding accreditation process,” said Shari Eggleson, president of the BRC board. "I am grateful to our dedicated staff and volunteers who brought us through the accreditation process, and proud that BRC has earned the recognition that accreditation represents--that we operate in an ethical and technically sound manner to ensure the long term protection of land in the public interest.”, she added.
Accreditation also shows how far the Bayfield Regional Conservancy has come since its founding in 1996, initially to obtain easements for the now popular Brownstone Trail along the Lake Superior shoreline in Bayfield. Since then BRC has expanded its membership base and now works to preserve special places in Bayfield, Ashland, Sawyer and Douglas counties, working with local governments, private landowners, tribes and government agencies to protect important habitats, rivers, forests, wetlands and farmland.
BRC’s accomplishments include working with the Town of Bell to purchase Cornucopia beach land; completing the Big Ravine Trail in Bayfield; acquiring several properties along the White River; purchasing Mt. Ashwabay Ski Hill land and the Nourse Sugar Bush property; purchasing the Houghton Falls Nature Preserve in partnership with the Town of Bayview and the Trust for Public Land; and working with the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa to purchase Frog Bay for public use as Frog Bay Tribal National Park. In addition, BRC has helped many private landowners obtain conservation easements to better protect special places they love and has been an advocate for farmland preservation, having preserved 4 fruit farms in Bayfield. The group has protected over 3000 acres in its service area.
Kwiatkowski said the seal of accreditation will assure landowners BRC will be both “effective champions and caretakers” of the land protected by such easements. In addition, accredited status will serve to assure governmental partners of BRC’s overall nonprofit management practices are sound, and may be useful in fundraising as well.
The Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance based in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., awards the accreditation only to community land trusts that meet national quality standards in their work. The Alliance, of which BRC is a member, is a national conservation group based in Washington D.C. that has worked with land trusts to preserve more than 47 million acres of farms, forests, parks and other special places.
FROG BAY WILL OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
The Red Cliff Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe Purchases the Frog Bay Land Parcel in Partnership with the Bayfield Regional Conservancy
In a move applauded by tribal officials, David Johnson and his wife, Marjorie, are selling their property known as Frog Bay to the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, in partnership with the Bayfield Regional Conservancy. The acquisition which closes on Friday, November 18, 2024 will protect the 88.6 acre property, keeping in its pristine state the nearly quarter mile of sandy and pebble beaches offering views of five of the Apostle Islands in the Gaylord Nelson Wilderness Area. Because this area has been historically important for the Red Cliff Tribe, but has been inaccessible in recent history, the Red Cliff band plans to open the site for public use and education on sustainable resource management, use of medicinal plants, nature based educational activities, for traditional/spiritual ceremony and to further the understanding that all land is sacred. Red Cliff officials are planning to repurpose the property as Frog Bay Tribal National Park (to be created next spring). Also, in order to ensure the long term protection of the site, the Bayfield Regional Conservancy will hold a Conservation Easement on the property, that will permanently restrict the property from uses that are incompatible with the protection of its conservation values.
How the transfer came about involved more than a bit of serendipity. The Johnsons were longtime close neighbors and even closer friends with former Sen. Gaylord Nelson and his family. It was Nelson, of course, who is deemed the father of the Apostle Islands, and the view from the Johnsons’ Frog Bay property was of islands managed as part of the Gaylord Nelson Wilderness. It was Nelson’s daughter, Tia, who says Marjorie Johnson was “like a second mother to me,” who put the Johnsons’ in contact with Ellen Kwiatkowski at Bayfield Regional Conservancy and initiated discussions that led to tribal acquisition. The Johnsons couldn’t be happier knowing the pristine property will be preserved for future generations. The Bayfield Regional Conservancy and the Tribe are proud to announce this remarkable and historic occasion.
Funding for the purchase was provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency’s Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program. The Apostle Islands Area Community Fund also helped cover some of the costs associated with the acquisition.
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If you would like more information about this topic, or to schedule an interview with Meghan Dennison please call Meghan Dennison at 715-779-5263 or e-mail Meghan at email@example.com
_The Bayfield Regional Conservancy is pleased to announce it is applying for accreditation, a professional rating that recognizes land conservation organizations that meet national quality standards for protecting important natural places and working lands forever.
As part of the process, a public comment period is now open. Please help us by letting the Accreditation Commission know what you think of our work.
The Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance, conducts an extensive review of each applicant’s policies and programs. Executive Director, Ellen Kwiatkowski, says “Being accredited will indicate that the Conservancy not only applies a high level of rigor to its land transactions and permanence of its easements, but also that its overall nonprofit management practices are very sound.”
The Commission invites public input and accepts signed, written comments on pending applications. Comments must relate to how the Bayfield Regional Conservancy complies with national quality standards. These standards address the ethical and technical operation of a land trust. For the full list of standards see www.landtrustaccreditation.org/getting-accredited/indicator-practices.