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Great Lakes Article:

DNR wants conservation area along river

Move would preserve open space in 3 counties

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
June 27, 2002

The state Department of Natural Resources is recommending establishing a 19,487-acre conservation area along the North Branch of the Milwaukee River in Ozaukee, Washington and Sheboygan counties to preserve one of the largest blocks of open space remaining in southeastern Wisconsin.

Public acquisition of land or deed restrictions on properties within the project boundaries would help maintain farming as a dominant land use and preserve a rural landscape facing increasing development pressure, says a draft feasibility study and environmental assessment released Tuesday.

"Creating the North Branch Milwaukee River Wildlife and Farming Heritage Area will set a precedent for how the department in the future establishes new projects with agricultural landscapes," DNR regional landscape architect Therese Gripentrog said. "This project will integrate working farmlands into our project areas for the long term, rather than identifying them only as a buffer from development."

The state Natural Resources Board will be asked to approve establishing the project at its August meeting in Two Rivers. The project area is comparable in size to the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, which encompasses more than 20,100 acres in Waukesha, Jefferson and Walworth counties.

A three-year study found significant local public support for establishing the proposed North Branch Milwaukee River Wildlife and Farming Heritage Area, Gripentrog said.

Even so, about 1,880 acres was removed from an earlier proposed project area after landowners south of Highway H in Ozaukee and Washington counties complained that the conservation area would become a busy park and create trespassing problems for them.

The proposed conservation site encompasses a core area of 16,549 acres of wetlands, woods and upland on the North Branch of the Milwaukee River and 2,938 acres of shoreline corridors along five tributary streams - Batavia, Mink, Stony, Wallace and Silver creeks, said Dale Katsma, a wildlife biologist with the DNR in Plymouth. The area includes three lakes: Huiras, Lake Twelve and Spring.

The Ozaukee Washington Land Trust already has bought acreage on two of the lakes to prevent further development. The trust owns 12 acres on Lake Twelve in the Town of Farmington and 103 acres on Huiras Lake in the Town of Fredonia.

The land trust supports the DNR proposal because the agency buys property only from willing sellers, said Steve Seyfert, the group's executive director.

"This program will work cooperatively with landowners," Seyfert said. "And the DNR makes payments in lieu of taxes on its properties, so there will be no loss of property taxes."

Recreational activities within the proposed project area probably would be limited to low-impact uses such as hiking, wildlife watching, hunting, fishing and canoeing, according to the draft feasibility report.

The DNR intends to develop only trails and small parking lots to provide access to future public land in the area, Gripentrog said. Facility construction costs are estimated at $130,000.

The deadline for the public to comment on the study is 4 p.m. July 9. A final report will be published after DNR staff review the comments.

If the board approves the plan, DNR staff could begin negotiating land or easement acquisitions with willing sellers within project boundaries. Purchase of a conservation easement would restrict property development while allowing owners to keep living on the land.

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