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ARCHIVED Weekly News Published December 17, 2013

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Nine Wisconsin State Park Properties invite the public to New Year's Day Events

MADISON - People looking for an invigorating way to kick off the New Year can ring in 2014 with a First Day Hike Jan. 1 at one of nine Wisconsin State Park properties.

On a First Day Hike visitors can enjoy exciting treks on foot or on snowshoe through diverse, beautiful natural areas, led by park rangers and volunteers. Each event is unique and may include additional activities such as a campfire, cross-county ski opportunity, hot beverages, crafts, and storytelling. Check out the event listing for details about what activities will take place at each property.

America's State Parks and American Hiking Society are teaming up with state park programs across the country to promote First Day Hikes as a healthy and memorable way to start the New Year.

All 50 states are participating in the third annual event that invites families and friends to celebrate the New Year amid the sights, sounds and wonder of our natural world with fun, guided hikes.

In Wisconsin, First Day Hikes will be held at the following properties:

Details on the individual events are available by searching the DNR website for "Get Outdoors," and looking at the First Day Hikes listing on the Wisconsin State Park System events calendar.

2013 was the second year Wisconsin participated in First Day Hikes and more than 165 participants hiked a total of 396 miles, despite temperatures in the single digits throughout much of the state. For 2014, more State Park properties are hosting First Day events, which will include a twilight hike at Devil's Lake and a talk about the history of snowshoeing before the hike at High Cliff, says Brigit Brown, state trails coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources.

Nationwide last year, First Day Hikes hosted 22,000 people, who covered nearly 44,000 miles in 700 state parks all across the country, according to the National Association of State Park Directors.

"Winter hiking is a fun and wonderful experience, but does require all hikers to be properly prepared," noted Gregory Miller, president of American Hiking Society. "We are encouraging Americans young and old to ring in the New Year by putting on their hiking boots and joining First Day Hikes in support of state parks and trails in 2014." For helpful cold weather hiking tips, visit the American Hiking Society's website at (exit DNR).

All participants are encouraged to log their First Day Hike adventures on social media with the hash tag "#firstdayhikes."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Brigit Brown - 608-266-2183 or Paul Holtan, 608-267-7517



Capitol ceremony marks chief warden transfer

Warden Honor Guard, LE staff, friends, families fill Assembly

MADISON -- More than 100 wardens and other law enforcement agency representatives were among those at last week's symbolic ceremony at the State Capitol Assembly Chambers as the Department of Natural Resources and its Bureau of Law Enforcement saluted its 17th Chief Conservation Warden Randy Stark as he ended his more than 31-year career, paving the way for the state's 18th Chief Warden, Todd Schaller.

The Bureau of Law Enforcement's Honor Guard led the ceremony, carrying in the flags while Warden Jeremy Peery directed orders for precision moves from the wardens and the non-credentialed staff.

Schaller told the audience he was a warden intern when he first met Stark while both were on patrol in Juneau County, and pursuing the warden career was the topic of the day.

"I don't recall the exact words used, but what I heard was if you're not committed - select a different path," Schaller said of a conversation that led to his 24-year career, most recently having served as the chief of the Recreation Enforcement and Education Section. "If you were to have that same conversation with an intern today, it would be much broader and include words like people skills, partnerships and adaptable."

DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp called it a bittersweet, melancholy moment as she was happy for Chief Stark, but said she was sorry to know his work at the DNR was done. But, she said the warden service - and the state - will continue to feel his legacy which is reflected in today's wardens.

"Chief Stark has always had his eyes ahead, trying to see what was coming and then helping me help the department get prepared for it," Stepp said, adding the wardens "truly are the ambassadors of the Department of Natural Resources... and have been trained under Chief Stark to look at an issue from way above it. Wisconsin Wardens: You call. They come. Pretty simple stuff. But it's critical."

Stepp said her history book check showed Stark is the 17th Chief Warden since 1891. "That's not very many. It must be a good job!"

Stepp complimented the wardens and said they are what Chief Stark "likes to call the investment of choice. Showing the people of Wisconsin the wardens are there to protect and to serve you and the natural resources that make Wisconsin so great."

She also complimented new Chief Schaller, saying the state's warden service was delivered into highly capable hands - trained under Chief Stark to carry on.

"Chief Schaller has that ability to constantly review how things are done to see ways to improve as the world continues to get smaller and to change event faster... He has his eyes fixed ahead to anticipate the next issue while encouraging warden development to deliver the best public service possible," Stepp said.

Chief Stark delivered a sometimes teary-eyed speech, recalling his loaded history of events and decisions that marked his 31 years in uniform from conflicts at boat landings during the spearfishing protest days in the 1980s to welcoming tribal wardens to the Law Enforcement warden academy at Fort McCoy.

He made note of the seven warden hats on chairs, representing wardens killed in the line of duty and reminded all of a Gaylord Nelson quote: "Everything is ultimately a subsidiary of our natural resources."

Dane County Circuit Judge Amy Smith, a former DNR administrator who at one time was Stark's supervisor, delivered the oath of office to Chief Schaller.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Joanne Haas - DNR law enforcement public affairs manager, 608-209-8147



State brownfields task force celebrates 15 years, legacy as model stakeholder group

MADISON - First created in the state budget as a one-year project to help the governor, legislators and state agencies tackle the cleanup and redevelopment of contaminated properties, the Brownfields Study Group recently celebrated 15 years as a state and national model for stakeholder involvement.

The group is comprised of local government officials, academia and representatives from the private sector, and is facilitated by Department of Natural Resources staff.

"We are very proud of the achievements of this group," said Darsi Foss, DNR Brownfields Section chief. "If you've seen an old gas station or abandoned warehouse in your community transform into a new or re-located business, chances are this group had something to do with helping make that happen."

Brownfields are abandoned or underused properties with real or perceived contamination. Estimates from U.S EPA have put the number of brownfields nationwide at more than 400,000, with Wisconsin home to more than 5,000 brownfield sites.

"For years local and state officials struggled with how to approach these properties," said Larry Kirch, planning director with the city of La Crosse and Study Group member. "They didn't fall neatly into any Superfund or other federal category, so they sat idle for decades."

With an eye toward cleaning up those blighted properties and returning them to the tax rolls, the State Legislature and Gov. Tommy Thompson created the Brownfields Study Group in 1998. The task force was charged with evaluating Wisconsin's brownfield programs and recommending changes, as well as proposing new financial, policy and liability incentives.

"No one was sure how this would work at first," said Kirch. "But give credit to everyone involved - they put self-interests aside, rolled up their sleeves and got to work in the name of smart and effective public policy."

The first Brownfields Study Group Report [PEF] outlined a host of fixes and new initiatives, including the Brownfield Site Assessment Grant Program, aimed at providing small grants to local governments to assess brownfields for potential cleanup.

The Legislature and Governor Thompson ended up adopting 30 of the Study Group's recommendations, and from that initial success recommended the Study Group continue to meet and provide input on brownfield issues.

"In many ways, the acceptance of that first report was unprecedented," said Foss. "That's a tribute to the hard work of the group and their willingness to collaborate on this important issue."

Since then, the Study Group has provided additional legislative recommendations and rules changes, and today continues to drive important brownfields policy changes in Wisconsin. Successes include:

"Whether it's a new coffee shop or soccer field, re-located grocer or an expanding manufacturer, many communities have reaped the benefits of the Study Group's work," said Foss.

Foss added that the state is a national leader in the brownfields arena. Since the passage of Wisconsin's Land Recycling Act in 1994, more than 18,700 acres of rural and urban land been cleaned up. The Study Group, said Foss, has not only received national attention as a stakeholder model but is now spurring the formation of similar DNR groups for work on air and petroleum issues.

You can watch a slide show of successful brownfield projects or learn more about the group by visiting the Brownfields Study Group of the DNR website.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Darsi Foss, 608-267-6713



Electronics recycling opportunities continue to grow under E-Cycle Wisconsin

MADISON - Wisconsin residents now have access to nearly 450 permanent electronics collection sites, and continue to recycle their old TVs, computers and other consumer electronics at an impressive rate, according to new data compiled by the Department of Natural Resources.

The DNR has released its annual report on Wisconsin's electronics recycling law, which in 2010 banned many devices from landfills and incinerators and created the electronics manufacturer-funded E-Cycle Wisconsin program to help households and schools properly recycle old electronics.

According to the report, during E-Cycle Wisconsin's fourth program year, there were nearly 450 permanent collection sites, along with approximately 250 special collection events in 67 of Wisconsin's 72 counties, covering 99 percent of the state's population. Wisconsin now has the highest number of collection sites per 100,000 people among states with electronics recycling laws.

The collection sites registered with E-Cycle Wisconsin offer free or low-cost recycling options for used electronics from households and K-12 schools.

"This is really exciting news," said Ann Coakley, DNR waste and materials management program director. "Wisconsin's electronics recycling law was designed to make collection sites more accessible to the public. E-Cycle Wisconsin is making this happen."

Together, the collection sites that have registered with the program over the past four years have sent 123 million pounds of electronics to recyclers, 95 percent of which operate in the upper Midwest. The recyclers safely dismantle the electronics and recycle the plastic, metal and glass so they can be used in new products.

"It's amazing to think that in four years, we have kept more than 100 million pounds of electronics from going into landfills and incinerators," Coakley said. "That's a lot of material now being put to good use, not to mention supporting job growth."

A recent DNR survey found that, despite the number of electronics collection points and Wisconsin's high rate of recycling, many people still don't know where to take their electronics for recycling.

"As people get new electronics this holiday season, we want to make sure they know where to take the old ones for proper recycling," Coakley said. "E-Cycle Wisconsin can help most state residents find a collection site near them."

Search for E-Cycle Wisconsin on the DNR website to view the program's annual report, along with a list of registered electronics collection sites by county.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Sarah Murray, 608-264-6001


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Last Revised: Tuesday, December 17, 2013

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