June 23, 2013

Minong, Wis. — Washburn County Lakes and Rivers Association (WCLRA) and The Conservation Fund celebrated today the completion of a collaborative effort to protect a 259-acre property along the Totagatic Wild River. During a dedication ceremony held on the property, the land was formally donated to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The forested parcel is located in Washburn County in the Town of Chicog and includes 2.5 miles of shoreline on the Totagatic River—one of the few remaining near-wilderness waterways in the area. The land was officially donated to the Department of Natural Resources in April, and will be managed as public land for wildlife habitat, forestry, watershed protection and recreation, including hunting, fishing, trapping, hiking, cross country skiing and paddling.   

WCLRA was a key partner in championing the state Wild River designation for the Totagatic, which was signed into law by former Governor Jim Doyle in July 2009.  Even before the designation, the group began working on additional watershed protection through land conservation measures. When the opportunity to preserve this high priority riverfront land arose, WCLRA asked The Conservation Fund to help facilitate and secure grant funding for the conservation purchase.

Grant funding from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund was made available for the acquisition with support from state legislators, including Senator Robert Jauch (D-Poplar), Representative Nick Milroy (D-South Range), Representative Steven Smith (D-Shell Lake) and former Representative Roger Rivard. The Four Cedars Foundation, St. Croix Valley Foundation and McKnight Foundation provided additional funding for this effort. An extensive grass-roots fundraising campaign, led by WCLRA, united citizens, civic groups, local governments, fisher folk, paddlers, lake and river stewards, environmentalists, high school students and anonymous individuals to raise nearly $93,000 to bridge the financial gap and complete the project.

Wayne Sabatke, WCLRA’s leader on this project said, “The public’s response has been tremendous and enabled us to do what at first seemed impossible.”

“The wild Totagatic is recognized by the state for being a truly unique gem, and we are pleased to be able to help WCLRA complete this conservation effort,” said Tom Duffus, Vice President of the Midwest region for The Conservation Fund. “The protection of this site not only secures a critical section of the river, it also compliments and connects nearby lands protected by the Fund and the Department of Natural Resources in 2010.”

The property’s former owners, Craig Solum and Terry Larsen of Solar Land Company, LLC, acquired the land from Ralph Mortier, a highly regarded state forester who had sustainably managed the property for the enhancement of its forest resources, wildlife habitat and scenic qualities. Recognizing the natural beauty of the property and its significance as part of a larger landscape of critical wildlife habitat and natural watershed quality, Solum and Larsen approached WCLRA, to discuss the permanent conservation of the land.

Solum explained: “Both Terry and I were born and raised near the Totagatic River property. We grew up being able to enjoy many properties that offered the peace and solitude that the Totagatic River property does. Today such an opportunity is indeed rare. Being able to provide this pristine piece of river paradise in its undeveloped form for future generations to enjoy, as we have, is truly a privilege.”

Paul Bruggink, North Region Lands Leader, for the Department of Natural Resources commented: “In 1965, Representative David Martin co-authored the Wild Rivers legislation enacted with the intent to, ‘…preserve some rivers in a free-flowing condition and to protect them from development.’ Mr. Martin was definitely a forward thinker. It is through his effort and our partners in conservation that we are able to preserve and protect the wild nature of the Totagatic Wild River. With this generous donation, 259 acres and 2.5 miles of river frontage, managed by the Department of Natural Resources, will be preserved in perpetuity for everyone to enjoy. This aims at the heart of the Wild Rivers Legislation, meets the intent of the law and preserves the unique wild character of this special river.”

About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states to protect more than 7.5 million acres of land since 1985.

About the Totagatic River
The Totagatic is the fifth river to be designated as a State of Wisconsin Wild River. Its clear, cool water originates in Bayfield County and flows through Sawyer, Douglas, Washburn and Burnett Counties for approximately 70 miles before the confluence with the Namekagon River. The Totagatic River is home to over 23 species of greatest conservation need and has been identified as a conservation priority in Wisconsin’s Wildlife Action Plan and Land Legacy Report.  The Totagatic and Namekagon are important tributary watersheds of the St. Croix River Basin.

About the Washburn County Lakes and Rivers Association
WCLRA is a vibrant county-wide association dedicated to promoting the environmental protection and responsible use of Washburn County surface waters and their attendant wetlands, shorelands and wildlife resources. The organization strives to share ideas and information through education and active participation for the benefit of individual property owners, lake and river districts and associations, local governments, the general public, future generations and the waters themselves.