Their land is now permanently protected from subdivision, development, and mining.
LA CROSSE, WI – Tucked away along Highway 171 in southwest Richland County is a beautiful property that is now forever protected by a conservation easement with Mississippi Valley Conservancy. Thirty years ago Connie Champnoise and Arthur “Art” Plachinksi bought the 144-acre property that included forested woodlands and a portion of Hall Bottom Creek as well as productive farmlands.
They had been exploring and falling in love with Wisconsin’s Driftless Area for several years before buying land. Connie saw the farm posted in a local realtor’s office, before such listings were found on the internet. She knew it was the right place for them as soon as she took her first walk through the woods on the property. It came with came with a farmstead that included an early settlement log cabin and an old dairy barn – both in need of much restoration. Connie convinced Art that the land with the cabin offered them a perfect weekend place “that beats camping” to get away from their work lives in Milwaukee. They both chuckle at the fact that staying in the cabin, initially, was only a small step up from camping.
Connie’s love of the land came from childhood days on her uncle’s dairy farm, playing in the creek and enjoying the animals. She has taken that love to a whole new level since she and Art bought the farm.
It didn’t take long for Connie and Art to connect with other landowners who were conserving and restoring their properties, and it was through those people that they learned about conservation easements and the permanent protection they offer.
Every conservation easement is different, depending on the natural features of the property and the land management plans of the owner, says Chris Kirkpatrick, the Conservancy’s conservation manager. In the case of the Champnoise and Plachinski property, the oak woodlands, the creek, the historic buildings, and the native wildlife were all considerations.
Regarding management of their land, water quality is a primary concern for Connie and Art. The property hasn’t been exposed to fire or chemicals for 30 years, and they like to keep it that way, knowing that the geology of the area is delicate and leaves groundwater susceptible to contaminants from above. Connie regularly tests the water in the creek and submits her findings to the WI DNR’s Water Action Volunteer (WAV) program that records water quality data throughout the state of Wisconsin. She and Art know that all the work they’ve done above ground on the property goes a long way to protect what’s below ground – precious water.
All of the former cropland is now in perennial cover of grassland plant species. This includes a native pollinator planting that is surrounded by the forested areas of the property, which are enrolled in Wisconsin’s Managed Forest Law program. Arriving at the property now, one can see the rolling grassland of their Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) plantings that provides habitat for a variety of migrating birds including meadowlarks, bobolinks, and dickcissel, all species of special concern.
Connie and Arthur have utilized the DNR’s Wisconsin Forest Landowner Grant Program (WFLGP) to implement management practices to thin the forested areas, which have created oak woodland habitat in the upland areas. They also have plans to plant additional oaks on the property. Oak woodland is a critically imperiled habitat in Wisconsin and provides important habitat for birds such as the redheaded woodpecker and the American woodcock, both species of special concern that are also found on the property.
Down along the eastern portions of the property near Highway 171 is Hall Bottom Creek, a Class I trout stream, which flows through the property for 1,100 feet. There is a complex of a forested seep, springs, and southern sedge meadow that the entire property drains into. Another unique feature of the property is found below the productive farmland soils and includes a series of shallow sinkholes – an excellent example of the karst geology of the Driftless area. Over the years other sinkholes have appeared, and have been “discovered” by their tractor sometimes getting stuck. With the entire property in perennial cover, these vulnerable areas provide a buffer from rainwater runoff that might otherwise infiltrate from the surface directly into the water table below.
Today, the farm has a storybook quality. The log cabin has been restored and incorporated into a new home, and the barn that is home to big brown bats, listed as “threatened” in the state of Wisconsin has been reroofed and repainted. Much of this work was done by Art, who is also the proud owner of a Root Slayer – a kind of long shovel with serrated edges – with which he has personally dug out a number of invasive autumn olive bushes on the property.
The farm is also a “forever home” to a couple of sheep and an occasional retired draft horse. Abby, their new puppy, is happy to inspect the property and participate in water quality testing whenever invited. She keeps Connie and Art as busy as ever.
About Mississippi Valley Conservancy
Founded in 1997, Mississippi Valley Conservancy is a nationally accredited regional land trust that protects more than 25,746 acres of scenic lands in southwestern Wisconsin by working with landowners, businesses and local communities on voluntary conservation projects. The focus of the Conservancy is to conserve the forests, prairies, wetlands, streams and farms that support native wildlife and enrich communities for the current and future health and well-being of Wisconsin’s Driftless Area.