Two land conservancies in the Lake Geneva area are turning back the hands of time so residents and visitors can experience the gift of nature as it once was. And they’re doing it one tree at a time.
A CONSERVANCY BUILT BY NATURE LOVERS
Harold Friestad is a former village president of Williams Bay, current board chairman of the Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy, and as passionate a leader and conservationist as you’ll ever meet. It was under his watch as village president that Williams Bay purchased 231 acres for conservancy in 1989, ensuring it wouldn’t be developed and vowing it wouldn’t fall to taxpayers to pay to maintain it. The Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy has made good on both promises. Today, Kishwauketoe, the largest watershed on Geneva Lake, is open 365 days a year, dawn to dusk, with no entrance fee and only donation boxes at the entrance to help with ongoing restoration carried out by hundreds of volunteers.
Harold says this precious piece of land is still a best kept secret in many ways. When asked what visitors can expect to see, he offers an impressive list:
1. Four miles of trails that are kept mowed (Harold mows them himself, keeping them just five feet wide so hikers can “touch, smell and get everything out of nature that they should”).
2. Wetlands fed by artesian springs.
3. Woodlands with trees that are 200+ years old, including one calibrated at 350 years old, with 300 new trees planted last year alone.
4. Prairies, sedge meadows and clear water streams providing clean water to Geneva Lake.
There are more than 400 plant species in the conservancy and, as Harold explains, the more variety of vegetation, the more variety of birds, and it gets better every year. Walk the boardwalks in the wetland, climb the four-story viewing tower, and make a point to visit during every season. “Every season is special, but my favorite time of the year is late April/early May when the vegetation is low and you see the flowers near the streams growing rapidly by the day,” says Harold. “The first flowering of the marigolds marks the awakening of the season and the place comes to life.”
ENVIRONMENTALLY SENSITIVE LANDS
The Geneva Lake Conservancy is another gem among ecological gems. This 40-year-old organization was formed to preserve environmentally sensitive lands throughout the county and, like Kishwauketoe, has achieved great heights with the help of hundreds of volunteers and donors.
Executive director Karen Yancey spent her childhood summers at her grandparents’ cottage in Williams Bay and today she’s heading up land restoration and rehabilitation so future generations may enjoy the community just as she has over the years. “We’ve opened four new nature preserves throughout the county for hiking, paddling, fishing and cross-country skiing. We hold birding festivals, and we have a milkweed and native plant sale in the spring,” shares Karen. The group’s Heritage Oak Program is an initiative to bring back the majestic oak savannas and woodlands of Walworth County through efforts that include selling oak trees to residents and planting trees in White River County Park. As Karen points out, oak trees provide habitat for hundreds of species including birds and the native plants that grow beneath them, which is why the oak program is so important.
Learn more about these and more parks and nature areas HERE.