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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

August 2000

Kids dip into stream sampling as part of Nature's Classroom studies in Mukwanago. © DNR Photo

Big lessons from small places

The C.D. Besadny Conservation Grants provide seed money to restore habitat and launch outdoor discovery.

Kids dip into stream sampling as part of Nature's Classroom studies in Mukwanago.

© DNR Photo.

Simple, solid beginnings can mold a lifetime and provide a foundation for making tough choices and finding opportunities.

That was certainly the case for C.D. "Buzz" Besadny who rose from Kewaunee, Wis. to a distinguished career as a wildlife researcher and administrator to lead the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources from 1980 through his retirement in 1993.

To honor his work and commitment to outdoor stewardship, the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin created the C.D. Besadny Conservation Grants. They annually provide $100 to $1,000 to give individuals, groups and communities a start in restoring wild habitat, teaching environmental topics, constructing nature trails, planning sites for nature study, producing teaching materials, doing outdoor research and building structures that give people greater access to the outdoors. From 1990-2000 some 174 grants supported projects including these:

Wildlife/fisheries enhancement (45 projects) – Pike Lake Chain restoration, Moquah Barrens sharp-tailed grouse project, Duncan Creek Watershed project, Tamarack Creek restoration, small dam removals, Ben Nutt Creek trout habitat, Mormon Coulee Creek restoration.

Environmental education (40 projects) – Environmental learning stations in the Drummond School Forest, Adopt-a-Waterway program support, a mobile environmental education center, a bicycle-powered generator to teach about energy, educational "discovery" trunks for class use, underwriting a Youth Stewardship Program, support for environmental education centers in Milwaukee schools.

Educational materials (24 projects) – an environmental awareness video project, a brochure on birding hotspots in Chequamegon Bay, library materials for the Alma Public Library, a field library for the Wisconsin Waterfowl Association.

Nature trail improvements (22 projects) – interpretive boardwalks, wildlife refuge trail, nature trail in the Webster School Forest; wetlands nature trail, a bog boardwalk and an ethnobotanical nature trail on the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation.

Outdoor nature study areas (21 projects) – interpretive butterfly gardens, bird and butterfly entry garden, an outdoor reading retreat, a hummingbird garden, a bird feeding station for a school, a butterfly garden and garden life cycle site, a demonstration area showing invasive plants.

Outdoor structures (14 projects ) – a pier for aquatic education, amphitheater seating for a school forest, a nature boardwalk, an outdoor classroom shelter, an exercise flight pen for injured raptors.

Research (8 projects) – oak savanna research in southwestern Wisconsin, a breeding bird survey on the Nicolet National Forest, yellow perch marking off the Door County coast to determine movement patterns.

Here's a closer look at some recent projects:

Bat boxes battle bugs – The Golden Sands Resource Conservation & Development Council is in the heart of the central Wisconsin vegetable growing country. In large areas the land has been cleared of trees and shrubs to make way for irrigation equipment. The council is building and testing artificial houses for bats to entice these voracious bug eaters back to the region. Higher populations of bats could reduce the need for chemical pesticides. Groundwater under the thin, sandy soils in central Wisconsin is particularly susceptible to contamination from the large amounts of pesticides and fertilizers used to raise potatoes, peas and other vegetables. The five-year project will test which house designs and locations bats prefer in this attempt to restore bat populations in the nine-county Central Sands area.

Bat savvy – In Chilton, the Ledge View Nature Center is working on the mental game of bat conservation – teaching adults and young children to understand bats and value their contributions to a healthy environment. Besadny grants purchased slides sets and books about bat conservation, bat houses and a bat detector used to locate bats overhead on night hikes. School groups, adult programs and scouting troops visit the center and have fun seeing videos, doing art projects, playing special bat games and watching bats to better understand these animals.

Saving coulee bluffs – The Mississippi Valley Conservancy works with individuals and communities to preserve fragile blufflands and river bottoms along the Mississippi River. The area's steep slopes are home to rare plants. Forested areas along the river are vital migration routes for rare and declining species of songbirds as they migrate from their tropical winter homes to their northern nesting and breeding grounds. Grants were used to make aerial surveys and maps of the most fragile areas including oak forests, rocky outcroppings, steep-bluffed "goat prairies," sandy river terraces and vast river bottomlands. The grants also purchased signs to mark properties and recognize landowners who have agreed to conserve fragile lands that provide unique habitat, preserve natural communities, and sustain scenic spaces along the bluffs and verdant ravines along the magnificent river corridor.

"The sky's the limit" – At the Ellwood H. May Environmental Park in Sheboygan a $500 grant helped buy globes, sky charts and star finders so kids would understand more as they watched the stars and the weather. The program fills a gap in the science curriculum offered at school, and it's fun. Children learn about the planets, seasonal weather patterns and a bit of astronomy. A companion two-week summer program of Nature Adventure Camps encourages campers, scout groups and 4-H clubs to come as families to the center for evening stargazing. Several different programs were developed and the most popular talks will now be offered to all Sheboygan County schools when they visit the center.

Shaping the outdoor classroom – The Olympia Brown Elementary School in Racine used its grant to build an outdoor classroom where outdoor learning would take off. Fifth-graders and their teachers built benches, work tables and a sheltered bulletin board so students could have a little elbow room to pore over plants and water samples drawn from nearby Lake Michigan and enjoy other hands-on science projects. Students studied vegetable and butterfly gardening, and got involved in a prairie restoration project near the school grounds.

Building bat houses in the Central Sands area to determine if bats can be an effective means of controlling potato field pests. © DNR Photo.
Building bat houses in the Central Sands area to determine if bats can be an effective means of controlling potato field pests.

© DNR Photo.

Casting the community ahead – The Trempealeau County Sportsman's Club combined their grant with other community fund-raising to build a community pier accessible to people who use wheelchairs, walkers and canes to get around. Second Lake in Trempealeau is tree-lined with a steep rocky bank that drops off. People who didn't have boats had little opportunity to fish, watch wildlife or just enjoy watching the sunset on the water. The new dock with a smooth, concrete approach extends 30 feet and ends in a 30-foot x 10-foot T surrounded by strong railings. Now everyone in town can get a little closer to the water in safety.

Sprucing-up the school forest – The Prairie Farms School District in western Wisconsin used its grant to help the community step out into the forest. Sloping land on the east end of the forest tract was pretty steep. Now the area has been graded and stairs formed with railroad ties, soil and gravel make is easier to take a hike through the forest trails, read the displays and use the site for jogging and walking.

Supplying the tools to explore a wetland – Nature's Classroom of Spring Green used a grant to buy water pollution testing kits, soil field testing kits, Secchi disks, biological microscopes, waders and nets. Students do five-day field studies collecting water samples, sweeping streams for aquatic insects, and examining plants on the shores of Lake Beulah near Mukwonago. The chemical conditions of the lake are measured, water samples go under the microscope and students participate in the Adopt-A-Waterway program to share water quality data with other schools over the Internet.

Finishing touches for a community park – Sawyer County used grant funds to build nature trails and add wildlife landscaping along the old DNR fish hatchery at Hatchery Creek. The property is the only county-owned park and adjoins the famous Birkebeiner skiing trail. Community service groups like 4-H and Trout Unlimited joined forces with DNR 14 years ago to improve streamside habitat along the old hatchery grounds, build park and picnic areas, and construct a public pavilion and restrooms. The Besadny grants add some finishing touches to this community project covering costs to plant cedars, hemlock and shrubs used by wildlife for food and cover. Funding will also give 4-H'ers supplies to build birdhouses and nest sites along the nature trails.

With support, the C.D. Besadny grants can continue annually keeping communities interested and engaged in outdoor enjoyment and wise outdoor management. The grant program, currently with about $200,000 in endowments, has set a goal of reaching $250,000 to continue the community dividends from investing in outdoor opportunities. If you are interested in joining this effort, contact the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, PO Box 2317, Madison, WI 53701-2317; phone (608) 266-3138 or fax (608) 266-2452.