Conservancy purchases 17 acres adjacent to Kickapoo Valley Reserve

wetlands on newly protected land in Kickapoo Valley
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Multiple organizations come together to expand a corridor of conserved land

LA CROSSE, WI – Mississippi Valley Conservancy closed on the purchase of a 17-acre property adjacent to the 8,600-acre Kickapoo Valley Reserve (KVR) from a private landowner with funds provided by several partner organizations. The property will be open to the public and will eventually be transferred to the Kickapoo Reserve Management Board for ownership and ongoing management. 

This newly acquired property in Vernon County, Wisconsin, was the only remaining private property along an 18-mile stretch of the Kickapoo River and provides important conservation benefits and recreational opportunities. 

Hay Valley Road forms part of the northern boundary, and more than 1,800 feet along the Kickapoo River form the western boundary. The rest of the property shares a border with the Kickapoo Valley Reserve.

While the property is relatively small, it adds to a contiguous protected corridor of more than 12,000 acres that includes both Wildcat Mountain State Park and the Kickapoo Valley Reserve. From a conservation perspective, wildlife corridors are critical for maintaining water quality and biodiversity. “Protecting the land around Hay Valley Creek will stabilize the stream banks, provide healthy soils that will absorb excess water and nutrients during rain events, and sequester carbon to fight climate change,” said Gretchen Pfeiffer, board president at the Conservancy. She added, “The water flowing from the protected property to Hay Valley Creek will possess the quality and quantity necessary to support a fully functioning aquatic ecosystem with common and rare fishes, native mussels, critical aquatic insects and native aquatic plants.” Native birds, insects and wildlife will also be able to rely on the protected habitat.

Hay Valley Creek is designated as a Class I trout stream, and the stretch of the Kickapoo River on this property is a Class II trout stream. When the Wisconsin State Council of Trout Unlimited and the local Coulee Region Chapter became aware of this opportunity, they were eager to get involved. “We love partnerships because land has gotten so expensive that it’s hard to purchase it on our own, so we look to partner with other organizations like the Conservancy,” says Kim McCarthy, manager of the Trout Unlimited Watershed Access Fund. This is the seventh property acquisition the Watershed Access Fund has supported since the fund was formed in 2010. McCarthy notes, “The Watershed Access Fund is designed for just one purpose, and that’s to make as much trout water in the state public as possible.”

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has conducted past surveys on Hay Valley Creek, confirming populations of brook trout and brown trout as well as other fish such as the brook stickleback, fantail darter, Johnny darter and others. In the summer months, the creek provides trout with a cold-water refuge from the much warmer main stem of the Kickapoo River. In addition to fish, wetlands on the property support the state-listed “species of special concern” including Blanding’s turtle and other wildlife, and the property is within the designated Kickapoo-Wildcat Important Bird Area.

The long-term plan is to permanently protect the natural resources on this property through a conservation easement held by the Conservancy when the property is transferred to the Kickapoo Valley Reserve Board for management and ownership into the future. The Kickapoo Valley Reserve is owned by the State of Wisconsin and the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Trust for the Ho-Chunk Nation and managed by the Kickapoo Reserve Management Board (KRMB). Jason Leis, property manager for KRMB commented, “We never would have been able to make this happen without the help of the Conservancy – they qualify for some grants and funding we’re not eligible for, so it’s a great way to work together to protect the land. Having access to the river will allow us to clean up debris and fallen trees so we can keep the Kickapoo River open for paddlers and anglers.” 

The partnership began with a conservation-minded property owner’s willingness to protect a special piece of land. The property owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, stated, “I’m happy to do my small part. It’s been great to work with the Kickapoo Valley Reserve and the Conservancy – they are good people who have a common interest in preserving wild things. It just made sense that my land along the river be used as a preserve. We need more of those areas.”

Funding and support from multiple partners made it possible for the Conservancy to purchase this extraordinary property. Major support was provided by the Wisconsin Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund, Trout Unlimited Watershed Access Fund and by the local Coulee Region Chapter of Trout Unlimited as well as a several smaller grants including the Wisconsin Land Fund, the John C. Bock Foundation, and a gift from an anonymous donor. 

Photo by Jon Klocek, Vendi Advertising