Jun 8, 2018

Two families who wanted to leave an enduring legacy though natural resource conservation have this spring protected 100 acres on the lower Siskiwit River.

The area is beloved by local community members and visitors alike, and the protection through a conservation easement guarantees public access forever.

In 2015, Bayfield Regional Conservancy acted on an initial inquiry from Brent and Cheri (Swenson) Surowiec following the death of Dorothy and Dennis Swenson, Cheri’s mother and brother.

Prior to the house fire that claimed their lives, the family had been discussing how to protect their special property for future generations to enjoy. As the heirs to the property, Brent and Cheri carried out the Swenson’s vision to protect the land while also allowing people to enjoy the property. The family had welcomed the public to enjoy beautiful river and its cascading waterfalls since 1943 when Arvid and Dorothy Swenson first purchased the property outside of the Village of Cornucopia. Adjacent property owners Larry and Marcy Dorau eagerly added their six-acre coastal estuary wetland to the project.

“We were excited to receive the inquiry and begin work on a project that aligned so well with our mission to protect land,” said Erika Lang, Conservation Director at the Bayfield Regional Conservancy. “In speaking with local people and regional partners, we knew that this area had long been recognized as an ‘ambassador landscape’ that could build on public appreciation of Lake Superior’s south shore streams and coastal estuaries. We also saw an opportunity to build on prior land protection work at Cornucopia Beach and Lost Creek.”

Over a three-year period, the Conservancy worked closely with the landowners, Town of Bell, and Bayfield County to explore future ownership, management and land protection options, while building local and regional community support for the project. A grant to help acquire the property was awarded by NOAA’s Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program in partnership with Wisconsin’s Coastal Management Program and accounted for half of the purchase price.

“The opportunity to protect a large undeveloped property and its diverse forest habitats, ravines, boreal forest habitat, and shrub-scrub wetlands as well as a Class 1/Class 2 trout stream fit NOAA’s program very well,” said Michael Friis, Program Manager of Wisconsin’s Coastal Management Program.

Matching funds were raised through the Conservancy’s fundraising efforts, with contributions from the landowners, local Cornucopia residents, as well as regional supporters of conservation.

“The outpouring of support from the Cornucopia community and beyond was astounding,” said the Conservancy’s Director of Advancement, Mary O’Brien. “For a few weeks, our mailbox was flooded with donations and cards from supporters, sharing memories of the Swenson Family and special times spent on the river. In a matter of weeks, we had the funds needed to complete the sale. People supported the project for a variety of reasons. People believed in the protection of the Siskiwit River and Lake Superior; they wanted to be able to continue to visit the property; they wanted to see more recreational opportunities in the area; and they wanted to encourage economic growth in their town.”

After extensively considering the project, the Town of Bell Town Board passed the project on to Bayfield County last fall. Bayfield County agreed to become the future owner and manager of the property following multiple meetings of its Forestry and Parks Committee and a vote by the County Board of Supervisors in March 2018.

Bayfield County officials said they were extremely excited about the opportunity to manage such a beautiful property. The waterfalls on the Siskiwit River are absolutely stunning, while the surrounding forest, wetland and riparian habitats are ecologically and biologically important.

However, it will take some time before the property is ready to accommodate substantial public use. In the near future, Bayfield County intends to establish a trailhead and begin work on plans to improve the existing, but primitive, trails. In the meantime, the County asks that visitors exercise caution when recreating on the property, to prevent damage to sensitive vegetation and landscapes. Also, until a trailhead area is developed, the County asks that visitors park along the north side of Siskiwit Falls Road. No parking is allowed on, directly adjacent to, or to the south of the bridge and extra care must be taken to avoid impeding the normal flow of traffic. It’s also worth noting that the land situated south of the road is privately owned and is not open to public use. All disclaimers aside, this property will provide residents of Bayfield County with additional opportunities to recreate outdoors and experience some of the wonderful and unique natural resources the area has to offer.

The Bayfield Regional Conservancy will hold a conservation easement on the property, now known as the Swenson Forest Preserve, to protect its conservation values forever. In this role, the Conservancy will continue to monitor the property annually, and assist Bayfield County in their ongoing stewardship of the Swenson Forest Preserve.

Founded in 1996, BRC protects nearly 5,000 acres of private and public lands in Bayfield, Ashland, Douglas, and Sawyer County. Properties that have been protected and that are open to the public include the Brownstone Trail in the Bayfield area; Big Ravine Forest Preserve in Bayfield; Houghton Falls Nature Preserve near Washburn; Lincoln Community Forest near Mason; and North Pikes Creek Wetlands Community Forest in the Town of Russell as well as several others. The Conservancy recently merged with West Wisconsin Land Trust in Menomonie to become the state’s largest land trust. A new name is forthcoming.


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