History

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Contributed by H. Lee Swanson and Gerald R. Goth

In the mid‐1980s, Joe Kuehn and H. Lee Swanson were interested in the purchase of approximately 600 acres of land (Sections 27, 28, 33, and 34 in T8N R7E of Dane County) from the von Rutenbergs of the Mariner’s Inn [Restaurant] fame. Joe received a telephone call from the von Rutenbergs in spring 1987 that they were willing to sell the property on County Highway KP. Following a couple of months of negotiations, the sale was closed on August 5, 1987 with a purchase price of $380,000. Contemporaneously with the purchase, a Sub S corporation was formed called Swamplovers, Inc. with five shareholders (Joe Kuehn, Lee Swanson, Tom Kuehn, Gerry Goth and Jim Kuehn). Joe Kuehn coined the name “Swamplovers” in jest to reflect the belief by the group that local people would think they were crazy for buying a parcel of “unproductive swamp land”. Jim Kuehn was only a partner for a short time. The property had been completely plotted for development by the von Rutenbergs. That, however, was never the intent of the Swamplovers group, who initially saw the property as a hunting and recreational opportunity.

In early 1988 Swamplovers decided to sell four lots on the east side of Highway KP totaling approximately 141 acres. These sales left 460 acres on the west side of KP in possession of the Swamplovers Sub S Corporation. The farmland in the east and west valleys were rented to local farmers Gerald Kerl and LaVerne Marten and was initially entered into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in 1988 A forest management plan was prepared by the UW‐Madison Forestry Department in 1998, and in 2002 the west ridge was put into the Forest Crop Protection Program. Swamplovers pursued several select logging operations over the next few years. The effort led to more attention to the woods as a resource to improve by removing invasives such as buckthorn, garlic mustard and honeysuckle. In concert with Steve Holaday of the DNR, several Timber Stand Improvement (TSI) projects were undertaken with grants (and cost sharing from the Foundation) which has provided the means to a program to improve the quality of the oak‐dominated timber stands on the property.

Large‐scale management of the property began in 1988 and has been gaining momentum ever since. In that year, the first prairie planting took place in conjunction with the new CRP plan. In 1988 Swamplovers also reached its first agreement with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to restore wetlands, and the first ponds were built in the wetlands on the southwest part of the property. These would be the first of several agreements and 19 constructed ponds and the beginning of a long‐standing relationship with U.S. Fish and Wildlife to restore wetlands and prairie on the property. In that same year, access trails began to be developed throughout the property and presently amount to almost seven linear miles. It was also decided in 1988 to cease allowing use of the farm for a motorcycle endurance course that had existed on the property for a number of years. The scars from that activity are still visible on the picnic hill prairie remnant. The resilience of the land is great however, and pale purple coneflowers among other native prairie plants emerged in the tracks left by the cycles. At about this time, it was decided to allow hunting and trapping on the property. Hunting and trapping rules and parameters were established, and all of these practices are still in use today. As well, hunting for pheasants was provided for and a shooting preserve license was acquired. Pheasants have been stocked for many years and in recent years Pheasants Forever has sponsored a youth day to encourage youth hunting and outdoor appreciation.

Attention to bird habitat and waterfowl production began in 1991 with the first duck and goose nests as well as bluebird houses. Many have been added since, in addition to providing more natural cover and food sources by establishing prairie plantings and wildlife food plots, and by restoring the property to its presettlement condition.

Prescribed fire was initially reintroduced to the site in 1991. Burning permits were acquired after consulting with state DNR officials and the township fire warden. Burning became very important in the control and management of prairie, wetland and woodland and has been carried on annually ever since with proper controls, equipment and trained personnel.

In 1997 the Swamplovers contracted Boehnen, Inc. to bulldoze the picnic area so that it could be mowed. Subsequent years began to expose many relic prairie plants on the hill. The presence and increasing abundance of these relic populations (along with encouragement from Gary Eldred, among others) fostered the Swamplovers’ interest in prairie restoration and to the potential this remnant held for regional prairie conservation.

In 1999, Pat Sutter of ASCS assisted the Swamplovers group with funding from Black Earth Creek Priority Watershed to repair and straighten a badly eroded area at the north end of west valley, as well as put in a new large pond in the front valley, for which they did the planning and got approvals from CRP and DNR. He also got a 50% cost sharing for that project and the Swamplovers agreed to destroy all drainage tiles in the east valley and plant 25 acres to wet mesic prairie.

In 1992 discussion began with DNR personnel about easements and other sources of funding to help with restoration of the property. In 2003, after much discussion and research with attorneys, accountants and an overriding desire to protect the land into perpetuity, it was decided to enter an agreement with Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation (now known as the Ice Age Trail Alliance, IATA) that would facilitate most of the Swamplovers’ objectives. Additional discussion with the DNR and IATA ensued in the following years, which eventually led to a conservation easement and final disposition of the land to the IATA with state, county and National Park Service involvement in a unique agreement with the Swamplovers in January 2005. Joe Kuehn’s untimely death and escalating value of the property and concern about how to protect it forever from development and save the native remnants that had been found, became the overriding factors in reaching an agreement with the aforementioned to make the property a permanently‐protected nature preserve. In the process, the partners established the Swamplovers Foundation to provide for the enhancement and care for the land in perpetuity with dividends from investments of the easement purchase.

It was decided in 2003 to build two new machine sheds, one for accumulated equipment and one to house picnic tables. Gerry and Lee suffered much consternation with the county in receiving approvals. It was decided that Lee & Gerry would also purchase some land and build homes on the property that would at some date in the future be donated to the Ice Age Trail Alliance. In June 24‐26, 2005, a dedication was held on the picnic hill with local, county and state dignitaries present to recognize the new arrangement that had been reached. Kathleen Falk, Spencer Black, Tammy Baldwin and others were present.

In 2007, Craig Annen of Integrated Restorations, LLC, approached the Swamplovers group with a proposal to assist them on a contract basis with acquiring funding and helping to facilitate the many large‐scale restoration and rehabilitation projects being undertaken by the Foundation. This arrangement provided additional funding for enhancement and rehabilitation projects and has thus far led to documented increases in the presence and abundance of several species of conservation concern that utilize the property.

Since its inception and not counting the initial cost of the property, more than $1.5 million has been spent on improvements, maintenance and upkeep related to the many projects, buildings, equipment, seed, labor, taxes, chemicals and everything else needed to get the property to its current condition. The Foundation has provided tens of thousands of dollars to several professional consulting and contracting firms in southern Wisconsin. Untold numbers of volunteer hours have been put in by dedicated owners, friends, and others who care about making the “Swamp Farm” a wonderful legacy to future generations, in hopes that they will appreciate and learn the importance of wetland, woodland and prairie to both human life and all the critters and flora that need places like this to survive.