When Fred and Carolyn Blake bought land in Sarona in 1992, the property’s 23-acre unnamed lake had no fish. Fred consulted a DNR fisheries biologist and began to put a plan in place, first stocking the lake with 1600 one-inch bass, and later adding bluegill. When high waters filled the typically dry channel connecting to nearby Miller Lake, the fish population diversified further.
For Fred, living out his golden years on a lake has been a dream come true. He has been a careful steward of their 165 acres of forested land over the years, taking care to harvest only dead and downed wood and maintaining a natural and vegetated shoreline on over 8,000 feet of frontage. He consults a local forester regularly to monitor the health of the forest, recognizing that the whole biosystem protects his cherished lake. The result is a mature dry-mesic forest community with an exceptional red oak / sugar maple stand uncommon by today’s standards. Fred likes to quote a comment made by then-president Ronald Reagan about his treasured western ranch. “… If this isn’t heaven itself,” he said, “it probably has the same zip code.” Fred and Carolyn feel the same about their haven.
Fred doesn’t just live for his own lake, however. As a founding board member of the Washburn County Lakes and Rivers Association (WCLRA), he has spent more than 20 years helping others to access resources and understand the need to protect the 964 lakes and roughly 700 miles of rivers in Washburn County. WCLRA’s monthly meetings are open to the public and current projects include supporting the county’s Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) program and helping to organize the Northwest Wisconsin Lakes Conference.
The lakes and springs on the Blake property help form the headwaters of Beaver Brook, a Class I trout stream and tributary to the Yellow River, a Wisconsin Aquatic Opportunity Area for Species of Greatest Conservation Need. At 87 years old, Fred hopes to have many more years to fish (mostly catch and release) on his lake and enjoy his oasis with Carolyn and the resident bears, eagles, coyotes, and other critters, and visiting swans, ducks, and geese.
After many years of discussion with Landmark, concerns about development pressure in the area and the potential for future commercial logging caused him to take action. Fred and Carolyn worked closely with Landmark to protect the property forever through a conservation easement, forever protecting the ecological systems cherished by the Blakes and critical for the health of Wisconsin’s lands and waters.