Donated Land Connects and Expands Protected Onalaska Blufflands

French Valley nature preserve and climate change
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ONALASKA, WI – Thanks to a land donation by local development company Elmwood Partners, Mississippi Valley Conservancy’s French Valley nature preserve was recently expanded by 50 acres. The land donation was made official on December 30, 2021, and the total size of the French Valley nature preserve is now 80 acres. Permanently protected by the Conservancy, an accredited local nonprofit land trust, the land will continue to serve a number of beneficial roles for area residents and wildlife. 

“We are thankful for the incredible generosity of Elmwood Partners in donating this land that will forever contribute to the health and biodiversity of Onalaska,” said Sue Dillenbeck, president of the land trust. “Land donations are a crucial part of our land protection strategy. It is our hope to continue to expand this protected corridor, to provide expanded opportunities for public recreation, and to increase the benefits for wildlife.” 

One of the Conservancy’s strategies for effective conservation is to protect corridors of wildlife habitat. “Conserving scenic blufflands along the Mississippi River is an ongoing part of the Conservancy’s work, as we seek to create corridors of connected habitats for wildlife in an area where there’s been much development,” noted Dillenbeck. The conservation of the Elmwood Partners land meets the priorities not only of the Conservancy but of other organizations as well. 

It’s within the Conservancy’s Mississippi River Priority Area and State of Wisconsin’s Wildlife Action Plan’s Mississippi River Blufflands Conservation Opportunity Area. Locally, the land is identified as an opportunity for conservation in the City of Onalaska’s Central Greenway Plan as well as the Onalaska Comprehensive Plan, which include goals to provide, improve, and enhance public use and enjoyment of the community’s natural resources. 

The importance of natural resources to local residents’ quality of life is also a key component of the La Crosse County Comprehensive Plan 2007–2027. One of the resources noted in the plan is the value of environmental corridors. The plan states, “Important environmental corridors that are suitable for preservation include the river and stream corridors, the bluffs, the coulees, and the important wildlife habitats located throughout the County.” The plan also includes goals to “Work in partnership with communities to manage and guide future growth, recognizing that land is an irreplaceable resource, and to enhance the quality of life by protecting both natural resources and farmland and by promoting urban infill and redevelopment.” The scenic wooded blufflands of the Elmwood Partners donation helps to fulfill the county’s comprehensive plan goals on multiple fronts. 

The donated land consists of scenic wooded blufflands. The diverse vegetation varies from the mature red and black oak on the hillsides to prairie wildflowers – butterfly milkweed, silky aster, and purple prairie clover – on the south-facing slope. These deep-rooted species absorb runoff during heavy rain events to protect water quality in the surrounding watershed

More protected wild land also means the City of Onalaska will spend less to maintain stormwater facilities and handle stormwater damage, according to Marc Schultz, chair of the Lake Onalaska Protection District. “Stormwater is better handled by wild land,” he said.

The property’s wooded bluffs are scenic and visible from I-90, State Highway 16, French Road, and Emerald Drive. “We donated the land for the people to whom we’ve sold nearby proprties,” said Paul Gleason, a partner in the development company and a former board member at the Conservancy. “We know the value of our other properties and the entire community is greatly enhanced by the scenic blufflands and the natural services they provide.”

“We are grateful to Elmwood Partners,” said Carol Abrahamzon, the Conservancy’s executive director. “Their gift helps ensure that future generations will have the opportunity to count spring warblers, enjoy bluffland scenery, and witness the miracles of nature in the Mississippi River Valley.”