By Dennis McCann
Roger Dreher bought his first parcel of land on little Lake Wilipyro near Drummond in 1983 and began building a house on the property two years later, a project that would take “every weekend and day of vacation for the next seven years.”
Last fall an adjacent parcel came up for sale and Dreher bought that, too, reasoning that as long as he owned both there would be no further development or shoreline disruption on the small lake he has come to regard as a special place.
“Then I started thinking, this is fine as long as I’m here,” Dreher said, which raised the obvious question of how long that would be. Not forever, he knew.
“That’s when I became serious about protecting it for the long term.”
Now he has. This fall, Dreher obtained a conservation easement that will protect his roughly 15 acres of mixed conifer and hardwood forests, along with 630 feet of shoreline, into perpetuity. And in working with the Bayfield Regional Conservancy to draft and complete the easement Dreher offered a textbook example of what is meant by practicing what you preach. For the last five years he has served on the board of BRC, whose mission it is to protecting land and water resources in northern Wisconsin, often through just such conservation easements.
“I think if I’m going to be active on the board and believe in their mission and I had a chance to do it myself,” he said, “then (the easement) became important. It was one more chance to eliminate the possibility of (further development) on this lake.”
Dreher said his first step was identifying the conservation values that would be served by such an easement, including shoreline protection, providing habitat for many species of wildlife and birds, along with aquatic birds and animals on a portion that includes a tamarack wetland. Protecting the property also would serve as a buffer from other development in the watershed that would protect the water quality not only of Lake Wilipyro but other waters downstream. Dreher said such protections were in concert with both the Bayfield County Comprehensive Plan and the Town of Drummond Lake Use Plan, which calls for preserving the area’s “northwoods character,” shorelines, wildlife habitat and protecting surface water quality while limiting overdevelopment of shorelines.
The easement was also in keeping with Dreher’s longtime work with inland lake associations. Protecting 15 acres on Lake Wilipyro, which Dreher said “nobody knows anything about, because it’s a real small lake,” is a much smaller project and carries a lower profile than many easements that BRC has taken on, but Dreher said it was important in other ways. Inland lakes can best be protected against water quality degradation and loss of habitat and scenic beauty, he said, when individual owners step up and eliminate the possibility of piecemeal development in the future.
“If we’re going to preserve inland lakeshores for the long term it’s going to be a parcel by parcel by parcel thing,” he said. “One landowner at a time.”
Already, he said, he is working to inform some of his neighbors about his reasons for granting an easement in hopes they will consider the same course. His experience in drafting the easement and getting it approved by BRC could serve as a template for others to follow, he said, perhaps reducing the expense of preparing and approving similar easements.
Dreher noted that the easement, while preventing further development of the property,
is flexible enough for him to continue to use and enjoy his home and even expand the house or
garage if he wishes. BRC, the non-profit regional land trust founded in 1996, will annually
monitor the property to ensure other terms of the easement are met.
By Dennis McCann
It was only as fitting as it was widely expected by friends that one of Lowell Klessig’s last acts before his death in August would be to permanently protect his beloved 80 acres of farmstead and woodland near Highbridge in Ashland County with a conservation easement. His life’s work and his heart’s passion had been in environmental stewardship and the rustic property he had called “The Un-Hilton” was the beneficiary of both that labor and love.
However, his goal was not to preserve the onetime Finnish homestead as a static site. Klessig, whose wife, Christine, called her husband a “philosophical farmer,” had long valued such property not only for its innate aesthetic values but also for the human connections that were inevitably present.
Thus, the easement Klessig drafted prohibits subdivision or industrial or commercial use, but allows for the former orchard, pastures or hayfields to be made productive again if the landowners, in this case his two sons, should ever want that. They and their guests can also use the land for hiking, skiing, hunting, fishing or studying nature, pursuits the land has offered to Klessig and others in the past.
Kim Bro, Klessig’s longtime friend and member of the board of the Bayfield Regional Conservancy, the agency to which Klessig granted the easement, said the move was wholly in keeping with Klessig’s understanding of the human side of environmental protection.
Klessig believed “that land was not just a decoration,” said Bro, “that land has productive qualities. It wasn’t, ‘ain’t this pretty, I’m just going to set it aside.’ It’s ‘yes, it’s pretty, but it’s also going to be put to work.’”
Klessig, 69, died Aug. 8 of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare disease that affects one in a million people. A member of the Bayfield Regional Conservancy since 2004, Klessig made it a priority to complete the easement before his death.
Klessig acquired the 80-acre Poppe family homestead, complete with 1910 Finnish dove-tail corner log home, more than 35 years ago when he worked as deputy director of the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute. He later worked as a Lake District Specialist for the UW-Extension, helping lake property owners across the state develop stewardship plans and lake districts. His first conservation easement was granted for property he and Christine owned at their home in Amherst in Portage County, but he maintained his connections to Ashland County, sharing “The Un-Hilton” with friends and family and, further, sharing his belief in land stewardship.
Bro said Klessig was bothered by the increasingly commercial celebration of Christmas so he developed a personal holiday more suited to the land, the annual Fall Colors Festival that combined a half-day of work followed by the tapping of a keg and meals cooked on the wood-burning cast iron cook stove.
“He would invite hundreds of people, and the ones who took him up (on it) he would always make room for,” said Bro. Lodging was on cots or in tents or teepees and often the work included improvements on the original log home, which was served running water from a spring just uphill from the house. Klessig’s favorite spot on the property, though, was a granite outcropping known as “the perch,” which overlooked the Penokee Hills and where he and Christine celebrated their wedding.
In describing the conservation values that merited the property a permanent easement, Klessig included protecting wetlands and streams, forests and natural wildlife habitats and related qualities. But Bro said it was important for him to leave open the possibility of future use of agricultural acreage because it was not enough to protect only its scenic beauty and history.
“It’s really part of what he loved about the place,” Bro said.
“It is comforting,” said his wife, Chris, “to know that this loved and cherished piece of the Wisconsin Northwoods will be protected for future generations.”