Important land purchase secured on Dell Creek

Groundswell Conservancy and the DNR wildlife and fish biologists had worked for months to purchase a 40-acre inholding in the DNR's Dell Creek Hunting and Fishing Area. The 40 acres has more than 2,000 feet of double-streambank frontage and a tributary. The land has some higher spots with oaks and creek bottom.


Wildlife biologist Nancy Frost had advocated for this purchase for years because it would offer excellent hunting, and because it filled a gap in a large tract of DNR-owned lands. DNR fish biologist Nate Nye had just completed an extensive survey of Dell Creek and its tributaries and knew that the creek is a good and improving trout stream. Groundswell Conservancy took the lead on this purchase, as it typically and wonderfully does to improve natural resources in a broad swath of southern Wisconsin, and had all the funding lined up.


But when an essential grant fell through, Nye contacted the Aldo Leopold and Southern Wisconsin TU (SWTU) chapters to see if they could plug the gap. After reviewing Nate's and Nancy's information about the creek and property, Aldo Leopold Chapter President Mike Barniskis and Southern Wisconsin Chapter President Jim Hess recommended to their boards that both should help. The two, along with Topf Wells of SWTU, contacted State Council Chair Mike Kuhr, as well as Bob Harrison, president of TU's good friend and staunch ally, the Badger Fly Fishers (BFF).


Thereafter ensued a whirlwind of incredibly positive and focused activity. Groundswell Executive Director Jim Welsh found another donation and negotiated with the conservation-minded owner so that the gap TU had to fill was $20,000. Kuhr contacted Kim McCarthy of Wisconsin TU's Watershed Access Fund, and he and Kuhr immediately responded with an offer to help.


Within 10 days the chapters' and BFF's boards had allocated funds, while the Council’s Watershed Access Fund was able to cover the difference. Groundswell had the $20,000, and by the end of January Groundswell had secured the property, which will soon be open to the public.


Everyone involved is excited to check out the new property. A joint workday there is even being considered, and everyone’s excited about a new stop their spring and summer fishing tours.


Lots of thanks are due, including Groundswell, Nancy Frost and Nate Nye for the hard, persistent work to make this purchase possible. Thanks also go out to the Aldo Leopold and Southern Wisconsin chapters and the Badger Fly Fishers. All showed great and quick leadership on this opportunity and all three had to use reserves that have been strained by pandemic challenges.


Thanks also to Mike Kuhr, Kim McCarthy and the State Council’s Watershed Access Fund. Their response was immediate, positive and enthusiastic. "Let's get this done," was McCarthy’s mantra. All of his questions and suggestions were extremely helpful. The landowner needed to have the purchase closed by the end of January and McCarthy instantly recognized and acted on the need to work quickly.


As you read this, the purchase should be completed. While that is good in and of itself, it's a positive step forward for this area. For some time the DNR has not been purchasing parcels with trout streams in southern Wisconsin, focusing instead on easements. While easements are all well and good, sometimes landowners want or need to sell the land, and not an easement. Thankfully the DNR and conservation organizations found a way to make this happen.


Due to the pandemic, the State Council had to cancel its largest fundraiser, its February banquet. It could really use some additional donations. This situation shows how valuable the Council is to chapters. Simply put, the Aldo Leopold and Southern Wisconsin chapters could not have made this purchase without the State Council’s Watershed Access Fund. The State Council deserves our support and will make good use of any donations you can make.


Finally, I remember Dan Wisniewski, my sadly departed good friend and fishing partner, who always believed that land trusts would be a great ally to TU in conserving Wisconsin trout streams and making them available to the public. Dan's belief is wholly validated by Groundswell's leadership in this transaction.


- Topf Wells


Topf Wells has been a member of the Southern Wisconsin Chapter for about 40 years and currently serves as vice president. He is very grateful for the DNR's, TU's and Wisconsin land trusts' efforts to preserve our trout streams and improve the public's access to them.