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Conservation advocates honored with awards as Wisconsin's best
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Conservation advocates honored with awards as Wisconsin's best

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FONTANA — The Geneva Lake Conservancy has been honored for outstanding conservation with the 2020 Land Trust of the Year award from a statewide alliance.

The Fontana-based conservation group has protected more than 2,500 acres of land throughout Southeastern Wisconsin and has established a variety of environmental education programs since it began in 1977 as the Committee to Save Geneva Lake.

In announcing the award, Gathering Waters: Wisconsin’s Alliance for Land Trusts noted the Fontana group’s establishment of an easement for what is now the 556-acre Holzinger Memorial Preserve near Delavan and the creation of a 40-acre conservation for what is now called Bromley Woods in the town of La Grange.

Another accomplishment was establishment of the Helen Rohner Children’s Fishing Park in Williams Bay, where a butterfly garden was added just this summer.

Karen Yancey, executive director of the conservancy, said last year was the most successful she could recall in terms of conserving acreage. And while conservation is reward unto itself, Yancey said, recognition for that work is much appreciated.

“We were very excited,” she said. “Our whole board and staff worked very hard last year to implement all of the new initiatives, so it’s nice to receive some recognition for that.”

The state alliance also noted the Geneva Lake Conservancy’s work launching or supporting such educational programs as the Conservation @ Home project, Keeping it Blue initiative, Winter Solstice Bonfire, Pollinator Walks and Heritage Oak Program.

A representative of Gathering Waters will make the award official Aug. 29 in Fontana during the Geneva Lake Conservancy’s “Road Rally” event, in which participants will tour nature preserves and then share a picnic dinner at the conservancy’s offices.

Gathering Waters has also named Charles and Dianna Colman as Wisconsin’s 2020 Conservationists of the Year for their commitment to protecting special places in and around the Lake Geneva area.

Charles Colman has been involved in the Geneva Lake Conservancy, Friends of the Kishwauketoe Conservancy, and the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

Dianna Colman, his wife, has helped lead projects like the Lake Geneva Garden Club, Lake Geneva Fresh Air Association and the Yerkes Future Foundation.

The Colmans placed their privately owned 28-acre oak forest property into a conservation easement, which will guard the woods against future development.

Charles Colman said he developed an interest in conservation during summer vacations to the Lake Geneva region while living in Rockford, Illinois.

“I remember distinctly lying on my back near the shore and looking up and watching the trees,” he said. “So I’m kind of a tree guy, and you just develop from there.”

For the four years that Charles Colman chaired the Geneva Lake Conservancy board, he helped push the group to be more proactive in both purchasing and protecting land.

He said the Gathering Waters award is a nice surprise for he and his wife.

“I don’t need to be out front very much,” he said. “But when you do work for a long time on one thing and then you do get thanked for it, it’s pretty nice.”

Dianna Colman has recently been in the spotlight for her role in conserving the historic Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay. Now, she is busy working to conserve the surrounding property on the Yerkes campus.

To help maintain a park-like setting around Yerkes, she is using historic maps and aerial drone footage to determine which trees have been on the property for generations and which ones have grown more recently.

“We can identify the original trees, the champion trees, and take care of them,” she said. “We can also get rid of some of the invasive species and bring it back into a very natural, park-like setting, and make sure it is a beautiful place.”

Gathering Waters executive director Mike Carlson said while his organization reviewed more than 40 land trust groups eligible for the awards, there was no question both the Geneva Lake Conservancy and the Colman family had made considerable contributions and were well deserving.

Carlson said conservation groups work diligently throughout the year, and when one conservation deal closes, they start right back to work on another. So it is important, he said, to recognize those who have made exceptional contributions.

“It’s so important to take a step back sometimes, really celebrate success and to realize that we have so much to be thankful for,” he said.

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