New grant key in race to buy Cedar Gorge land

County likely to receive $450,000 in federal funds for purchase of preserve property being eyed by developer

OFFICIALS FROM Ozaukee County and the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust said they are confident they will raise enough money to purchase the Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs Nature Preserve this fall, an endeavor boosted by news that another federal grant to help pay for the land has been given tentative approval. Press file photo
Ozaukee Press staff

Ozaukee County has tentatively been awarded a $450,000 federal grant to help pay for the proposed Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs Nature Preserve — a grant that  significantly decreases the amount of money that still needs to be raised to purchase the 131-acre property in the City of Port Washington, Andrew Struck, the county’s director of planning and parks, said Tuesday.

“We still have fundraising to do, but we feel we’re pretty close,” Struck said. “It doesn’t mean we’re all the way there, but we’re narrowing the gap. We’re hoping to close the gap shortly.”

That grant, he noted, would cut the roughly $1 million yet to be raised almost in half.

The tentative award of the Environmental Protection Agency grant, which is administered through the Department of Natural Resources Office of Great Waters, is expected to receive final approval in July, Struck said.

The tentative award is one reason the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to extend the deadline June 20 for the $300,000 grant it awarded the project until the end of the year, Struck said.

That grant, he noted, was the first one awarded to the Cedar Gorge project.

Tom Stolp, executive director of the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, called that grant extension “very critical” to the purchase.

“It is a big benchmark for the community to know about,” he said.

He said that the fundraising the Land Trust and county have been doing was important to receiving that extension from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The granting agency was satisfied with the success the (fundraising) campaign has received in the last several months,” he said. “We’re not sitting idle waiting for those funds to appear.”

According to the Land Trust website, $3.7 million has been raised to buy the property from Waukesha State Bank — an amount that does not include the EPA grant.

The Land Trust has a contract to purchase the property that expires Sept. 20.

Stolp said the Land Trust is confident it will reach its $5 million fundraising goal, and it is beginning to prepare for the closing of the sale by doing such things as final surveys, environmental site assessments and preparing the necessary conservation easements.

The closing, he said, will take place this fall.

The public reaction has been twofold since an anonymous legislator blocked the state Joint Finance Committee’s approval of a $2.3 million Knowles-Nelson stewardship grant — later reduced to $1.3 million — and an anonymous developer stepped forward to buy the land if the Land Trust doesn’t, he added.

Their first reaction is anger, and the second is generosity, Stolp said, noting that the number of businesses and households contributing to the fundraising campaign has doubled since then, to a total of more than 850.

Those businesses and households hail not only from all corners of Wisconsin, he said, but also from 18 states.

“It’s become pretty amazingly popular,” Stolp said. “People are stepping up with meaningful philanthropy. We’re really amazed.

“We would love to see the Finance Committee commit to this project, but we’re putting our heads down and raising the funds to make sure we can forever conserve this property.”

Acquisition of the Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs parcel has  been on the Land Trust’s radar for years, due in large part to the pristine gorge and important habitat it provides for birds, wildlife and plants.

Equally important is the fact that its acquisition would provide public access to the property, which includes roughly a mile of lake frontage, in perpetuity.

The land is east of Highway C on Port Washington’s far south side, a stone’s throw from the popular Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve also purchased by the Land Trust and turned over to Ozaukee County.

During the pandemic, the number of people visiting Lion’s Den burgeoned, and officials have said that Cedar Gorge would help reduce the pressure on that park.

“We’re close,” Struck said. “We’re super confident and everything’s moving in the right direction.”

Stolp concurred, saying, “We’re marching ahead and good news is coming in. We have every confidence that at the end of the day, this property will be conserved.

“It will be a  good day when we can put a bow on this project.”


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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