December 07, 2011 | 07:37 AMWILLIAMS BAY — Call it a contract for the future.
The Williams Bay Village Board voted March 21 to accept the conservancy's offer to help the village preserve Kishwauketoe. By accepting the conservation easement, any future changes to Kishwauketoe will require agreement between the village and the Geneva Lake Conservancy.
On Nov. 29, the village of Williams Bay signed a land protection agreement with the Geneva Lake Conservancy that promises to ensure that Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy (KNC) will remain permanently undeveloped and unspoiled for future generations
The village bought the property and turned it into a preserve about 20 years ago. Most of the land is marsh and unsuitable for development, but a few areas within the preserve might be buildable.
Harold Friestad, chairman of the Kishwauketoe Commission, who was Williams Bay village president when the village bought Kishwauketoe from private interests in 1990, was joined at the entrance of the nature area by Village President John Marra, State Sen Neal Kedzie and representatives of the Geneva Lake Conservancy for the signing of the land protection agreement, called a conservation easement.
The 215 acres of Kishwauketoe is the last of the lakeside properties along Geneva Lake remaining in a near pristine state, with acres of natural, undisturbed woodland, extensive wetlands and prairies.
Members of the Kishwauketoe Commission, Friends of Kishwauketoe and other civic and community groups from the Geneva Lake area maintain the conservancy. Trails were added to help visitors observe birds, wildlife and native plantings.
Members of the Kishwauketoe Commission, the Friends of Kishwauketoe, other civic groups and community volunteers from the Geneva lakes area maintain the property, which is bounded by State Highway 67, Geneva Street and Harris Road.
The village of Williams Bay established Kishwauketoe to ensure the protection of this fragile shore land wetland area for future generations.
Friestad said it took three years of negotiations with conservation and village officials to work out the agreement. The conservation agreement is comprehensive and detailed, Friestad said.
The land preservation contract is 165 pages long, he added.
While no one is against preserving Kishwauketoe in perpetuity, there was concern the agreement takes away some of the village's control of the land.
"Everyone has pride in their community," Friestad said. "But you don't know. Twenty or 35 years from now, the Village Board might make bad financial decisions."
It would be a temptation to sell off parts of Kishwauketoe for income, Friestad said.
To prevent that from happening, something was needed to seal the borders of Kishwauketoe from development in future.
"It was important to have a third party to watch over this precious resource," Friestad said.
The village does not give up ownership of Kishwauketoe, Friestad said.
In fact, Williams Bay can sell the land, but all 215 acres must be sold as one lot, and the new owner must agree to maintain the four miles of trails on the land and follow the best land conservation practices of the state Department of Natural Resources, Friestad said.
In effect, only a charitable, land preservation trust would buy Kishwauketoe under those conditions, he said.
The agreement prohibits any new construction on land protected by the conservancy. The KNC can replace or repair existing structures, mostly elevated walkways, if they are damaged, Friestad said. It may also replace ground level walkways with elevated walkways if wetlands become flooded.
Once a year, a representative of the Geneva Lake Conservancy will walk the perimeter of the property to make sure there are no encroachments on Kishwauketoe property.
The KNC did keep about a half acre of the conservancy along Highway 67 out of the conservation agreement "to leave a place if they want to build an information kiosk or welcome center in the future," Friestad said.
Others who were involved in the signing of the agreement agreed with Friestad.
"I am proud of the village trustees for unanimously agreeing to this permanent protection agreement," said Marra. "Our village has set a wonderful example for what communities can accomplish for both today and the future when we all pull together."
Robert Klockars, chairman of the Geneva Lake Conservancy, said the addition of Kishwauketoe into the Geneva Lake Conservancy's land conservation easement program reflects the commitment in Wisconsin to preserve its natural habitat and resources.
"The sense of community partnership in land conservation demonstrated by the Kishwauketoe Commission, with the support of the board and staff of the Conservancy, is a great accomplishment for the entire Geneva lakes family of communities," Klockars said.
Lynn Ketterhagen, manager of land protection and operations for the Geneva Lake Conservancy, said the new agreement with Kishwauketoe now brings 1,200 acres of natural lands under permanent protection through the Geneva Lake Conservancy.
"And we can see the potential for adding such protection to much more of our habitat in the lakes area," she said.
Kishwauketoe is administered and cared for by its members, board of directors, officers and the Friends of Kishwauketoe. More information can be found at www.kishwauketoe.org.
The Geneva Lake Conservancy is a tax-exempt, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) with the mission of protecting the environmental character of Walworth County. Originally founded in 1977, the organization focuses on land protection through conservation easements and trusts and advocates for the preservation of wetlands, farmlands, open spaces, woodlands and shorelines from excess development. For more information on the Conservancy, see www.genevalakeconservancy.org.