Gently flows the Marengo River through the lush woods in the heavily forested Bayfield County Town of Lincoln.
The diminutive stream murmurs gently as its copper-colored waters flow past tree-shaded shores.
This is a quiet place, where the rare wood turtle paddles undisturbed by man or his works, where endangered orchids grow unseen in the forest.
Until recently, it was also a place where the Plum Creek Timber Company owned 400 acres of wooded land along the shoreline of the Marengo River, land that was being managed for commercial timber production.
However, in these wooded acres, a new future is at hand since the Bayfield Regional Conservancy (BRC) completed the purchase of the land from Plum Creek in December. The land will now take on a new life as the Lincoln Community Forest.
According to Conservancy officials, the BRC will convey the newly established community forest to the Town of Lincoln in late 2013 pending a majority vote by town residents to accept the gift. Funds for the $673,000 purchase came from matching grants from the U.S. Forest Service Community Forestry Program and the state of Wisconsin’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund administered by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Ellen Kwiatkowski, the former executive director of BRC, said the project would benefit the town in a number of ways.
“Not only will it allow for public access for hunting, fishing, hiking, birding and other non-motorized uses, but it will also provide protection for some two miles of Marengo River shoreline along a highly erodible section of the river,” she said. “That will ensure that the river remains a high-quality trout stream.”
Kwiatkowski said the Marengo River is a priority conservation area for the BRC due to its biological diversity, presence of rare and endangered species and its importance for the health of the Bad River and Kakagon Slough.
“I just think it was such a great project,” said BRC Land Conservation Specialist Karin Kozie. “It had a lot of community support.”
Kozie, a wildlife biologist, said the Marengo River and the area around it was an important area to preserve.
“It allows the people of the area to both protect the river and forest, and benefit from the forest in different ways,” Kozie said. “All of us find different ways to use nature.”
Kozie said a management committee would establish ways of helping people to enjoy the property.
“They are talking about maybe ski trails, or maybe hiking,” she said. “There might be areas that don’t have trails. It will be available for hunting and fishing. It is their forest. It’s for the Town of Lincoln and everyone.”
Already, a Friends of Lincoln Community Forest group has been formed to help with management of the property, and in addition BRC will be guided on management of the property by a volunteer committee that will include local citizens, a BRC representative and a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources forester. BRC will also work to include schools in management activities.
“They kind of have an ownership in it,” Kozie said. “They will be part of deciding how to best use it and have input into what they want to see there.”
The land is largely forested, including a mosaic of forest types, and serves as habitat for state rare and endangered species, along with at least 145 species of birds. Other wildlife includes bear, deer, bobcat, fisher, American marten, gray wolf, wood turtle and more. The Conservancy holds a conservation easement on a 270-acre adjacent property in partnership with landowners and will continue voluntary land protection efforts there as well, creating a 670-acre conservation area.
In addition to offering public recreation, the property is intended to serve as an example of sustainable forestry and restoration. The Conservancy plans to hold field days in collaboration with other forest management organizations to further sustainable forestry tenets. One other goal for management is to promote the prevalence of native tree species resistant to climate change, in order to ensure forest adaptability in response to climate change impacts expected for the region.
The purchase is in keeping with the Town of Lincoln Comprehensive Plan, which when approved in 2010 cited maintaining the area’s rural and Northwoods character was a key issue as well as conserving the town’s natural resources.
The Conservancy became involved in the project after a group of town residents approached the BRC about the property, which had been listed for sale, and asked for their help in preserving it.
“A lot of fortuitous circumstances were involved,” Kozie said. “We just recently completed the easement along the Marengo River on the property of Mark and Pam Dryer. We kept looking at the Plum Creek Property, because we know that they are trying to sell things off, and we thought, boy, it would be nice to protect that parcel, because we would hate to see it divided up and developed, which could easily have been done, right after we had established the easement on the Dryer property.”
Kozie credited Kwiatkowski with taking the lead on obtaining the Forest Service Community Forest grant, as well as others who saw the value of protecting the land.
“There were a few dedicated people who really wanted to see the property conserved and it all started with the Dryer property easement,” Kozie said.
Mark Dryer is one of the community members happiest to see the community forest become a reality.
Dryer, who also serves as Town of Lincoln clerk, first got involved in the project as a citizen who was interested in conserving the Plum Creek Land.
“As a resident of the town, I think this is an excellent opportunity that has already taken place by the Bayfield Regional Conservancy,” he said. “This acquisition will ensure that the property is not developed, for homes and roads, but instead will retain its natural values, its recreation values, its sustainable forestry resources, and it guarantees public use of the land. The alternative under private ownership of the land would not have done that.”
Dryer noted that while much of the Town of Lincoln is heavily forested, because much of the land is in private hands, there were not many opportunities for the public to take advantage of recreational opportunities in the forest.
“The Marengo River is a wonderful little trout stream that not many members of the public get a chance to see. Now they will be able to,” he said.
That success was largely due to the strong support of the residents of the Town of Lincoln itself, said Kozie.
“It was so many of the local people who helped us with this project, helped it to happen,” she said. “That was a very important part of creating a community forest.”
The Bayfield Regional Conservancy is a non-profit land trust dedicated to preserving the places beloved by residents and visitors alike in northwestern Wisconsin. Since its inception in 1996, the BRC has preserved more than 3,000 acres and is a member-supported charitable organization. For more information, or to make a tax-deductible contribution, see www.brcland.org or call (715) 779-LAND (5263).
(Material from the Bayfield
Regional Conservancy was used
in the creation of this report.)
Rick Olivo can be reached at email@example.com.