Kettle Moraine Land trust set to spring into action
The growing, 8-year-old nonprofit organization is dedicated to restoring, preserving and protecting land and habitat in much of Walworth County. It recently merged with the former Land Trust of Walworth County and acquired the Jackson Creek Preserve south of Elkhorn. Kettle Moraine Land Trust is negotiating to get a conservation easement on 110 acres near Lake Beulah between East Troy and Mukwonago, and it is preparing to hire its first full-time staff member to oversee a new project in the Delavan Lake watershed.
"Land trusts are a bottom-up approach to protecting land and habitat," said Gerry Petersen, president of the Kettle Moraine Land Trust. "They can have an ear to the ground and have a network of folks in the local area … and be active participants at the town and county and community level to allow preservation to take place."
Petersen said communities, especially in attractive places such as Walworth County, are facing more pressure to develop and tough decisions about land.
"The community needs to decide is it OK to take all of (the land) out, is it OK to take the best of it out?" he said. "Land trusts can play a role in that."
The local group was founded in 2001 as the Lauderdale Lakes Improvement Agency. The organization in 2007 changed its name to better reflect the region it serves and in June merged with the former Land Trust of Walworth County.
The Kettle Moraine Land Trust now covers much of Walworth County, overseeing projects mostly in the Lauderdale Lakes area. It works alongside the Geneva Lake Conservancy, which works within the Geneva Lake watershed, and the Nature Conservancy, which has a project area near Lulu Lake, west of Mukwonago.
Petersen said an experienced and dedicated board of directors runs the organization and provides the numerous volunteer hours—sometimes as many as 20 hours a week from one person—required to maintain the properties the land trust owns or manages.
"That's how young land trusts have to operate," he said. "You start out with a dedicated team that really believes in the cause, and you work your way toward a large project that requires a more concentrated effort."
The land trust has partnered with the newly formed Delavan Lake Watershed Initiative Network to develop a conservation plan for Delavan Lake and its watershed. The group is seeking a full-time staff member to oversee management of that project along with other operations.
Petersen said the program director will be the first full-time staff member the land trust has ever hired.
"In addition to this full-time staff person, we'll continue to have part-time staff support," he said. "There is no question our activities will be broad enough … that we won't have any problem continuing to maintain a full-time staff person."
Peterson said the land trust's five-year plan calls for the full-time staff member to eventually become the executive director of the organization.