Dane County plans to purchase over 220 acres of land in two separate cities in the area for the purpose of conservation and eventual addition to the Ice Age Complex and other public spaces.

The projects in both cities are predicted to be approved in the next few weeks by the Dane County Board. The first city Dane County plans to purchase land from is the Town of Cross Plains, according to NBC15 reporting.

Dane County plans to purchase the 152-acre parcel for $1,090,000 using money from the Dane County Conservation Fund, according to NBC15.

The Town of Dunn would be the second city to sell parcels of their land, and a total of 69 acres would be allocated to the ownership of Groundswell Conservancy for the purpose of wetland habitat protection and public recreation, NBC15 reported. 

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Dane County would provide the Groundswell Conservancy with a total of $152,570 to aid in acquiring the land, while the Conservancy would have to pay the remaining $145,230 in order to gain full ownership of the 69 acres, according to NBC15.

NBC15 also reported Dane County would spend over $1 million from their Dane County Conservation Fund to purchase land in the area for conservation purposes.

“So we [Groundswell Conservancy] are getting money from the state … and also through the Dane County Conservation Fund, and both those programs require that deed restrictions are recorded on the property at the courthouse that remind everyone now and in the future that the land can only be used for conservation,” Jim Welsh, Executive Director at Groundswell Conservancy, said.

But, Dane County planned to turn the purchased land into conservation areas using different methods for each city, according to Laura Hicklin, Director of the Dane County Land and Water Resources Department. 

In Cross Plains, the land remained under private ownership and the money offered from the county would go towards an easement, or a right to a specific use, on the land. Hicklin said the easement necessitated a long list of conditions that must be followed. Hicklin said the conditions would stay with the land no matter how many changes in private ownership there are.

“The primary restrictions of the easement are that one, no development can occur, two, no mineral extraction or other earth disturbing activities may occur, three, any agricultural activities must follow a conservation plan and four, public access for the Ice Age National Scenic Trail will be allowed along a designated corridor,” Hicklin said.

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Using an easement for the land allowed Dane County to maintain the natural land while not prohibiting private ownership of residents at the same time. 

On the other hand, Hicklin said the land being acquired for conservation purposes in the Town of Dunn would be purchased and allocated to complete ownership under Groundswell Conservancy.

“The County will provide a grant to a local land trust, Groundswell Conservancy to purchase the property,” Hicklin said.

As outlined on their website, Groundswell Conservancy is accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission and has helped permanently protect more than 12,000 acres to date.

While the land in Cross Plains would become a part of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Hicklin emphasized Groundswell’s land would be used for a variety of purposes, including recreational opportunities and wetland conservation. Welsh said protecting the wetlands is important for storm-water drainage.

“Given what’s happening with climate change and the forecasts for increased heavy precipitation, what we really need to do, in as good a job as possible, is making sure that all of our wetlands are well protected and well managed,” Welsh said. “This is an example where the wetland won’t be developed so it will always be available to store floodwaters.”

The property acquisitions in Cross Plains and Dunn were both identified in the Dane County Parks and Open Space Plan. These two land acquisitions were just a few of the many conservation plans for the 2018-2023 five-year plan.

Dane County Parks showed the county had similar conservation projects in the past. The plans were successful in acquiring over a thousand acres of land in their previous five-year plan, according to the plan.

“[Dane County] acquired approximately 1,500 acres of recreation park and natural resource area lands,” Dane County Parks said of land acquisition in 2012-2017, their last 5-year plan before the current one.

But, purchasing land for public and conservation purposes is not a new concept for Dane County, according to the Parks and Open Space Plan.

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A review of the entire history of land acquisition in Dane County from the Parks and Open Space Plan shows how dedicated the county is to providing recreational and environmental areas. 

“The Dane County Parks currently provides 12,608 acres of land in the following categories: Recreation Parks (26), Wildlife Areas (16), Natural Resource Areas (27), Ice Age Trail Corridor Forests (2), Historical/Cultural Sites (6),” the 2018-2023 Dane County Parks and Open Space Plan said.

According to the Dane County Land and Water Resources Department, they believe it is increasingly important to conserve land and wetlands as the effects of climate change become apparent.

One reason why the land in the Town of Dunn would be allocated substantially towards wetland protection is that wetlands have the duality of supporting plants and animals along with providing recreational opportunities to people, Hicklin said.

“We are fortunate to live in a community that values conservation and the public and our local elected leaders have consistently supported the efforts,” Hicklin said.