Scouts enlist in fight to save land

Inspired by Land Trust’s effort to preserve Cedar Gorge despite state grant fiasco, the Daisy Scout members of Troop1401 sign on to a cause that leaders say is picking up steam

MEMBERS OF Girl Scout Troop 1401, as well as Cub Scouts from their hometown of Wauwatosa, lined the railing along the Lake Michigan bluff in Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve during a tour of the Ozaukee County park in the Town of Grafton Saturday. The Daisy Scouts are working to help the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust purchase and preserve the nearby Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs land, and touring Lion’s Den gave them an idea of what they’re working to save. Photo by Bill Schanen IV
Ozaukee Press staff

The scuttling of a $1.6 million state grant for the purchase of Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs Nature Preserve land by legislators who were lobbied by a developer with designs on the Port Washington property has inspired a surge of support from a growing number of people for the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust’s preservation efforts.

Count among them 16 Daisy Scouts, members of Girl Scout Troop 1401, who have made it their mission to save the 131 acres of Lake Michigan bluff land from development and see it protected and open to the public in perpetuity.

“Here’s an amazing piece of land on the Lake Michigan shore, and here’s a chance to save it for people to enjoy and for the benefit of the environment,” Troop leader Justin Wienke said. “This gives the kids a chance to see that there are ways to get involved and make changes.”

Wienke accompanied Scouts from his troop on a tour Saturday of Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve in the Town of Grafton, Ozaukee County’s premiere park on Lake Michigan bluff land purchased by the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust more than a decade ago.

Albeit smaller by nearly 60 acres, Lion’s Den is similar in its environmental features to the Cedar Gorge property just to the north and gives people a good idea of what’s at stake in the effort to preserve  the land, tour guide and Land Trust Development Director Leona Knobloch told Scouts during their hike.

“It was great to see how engaged the kids were,” Knobloch said after the tour. “And the really neat thing is that when they visit Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs Nature Preserve some day, they’ll be able to say, ‘Hey, I was part of this.’”

Never mind that neither Lion’s Den nor Cedar Gorge is exactly in the back yards of these Scouts, who are second-graders at Lincoln Elementary School in Wauwatosa. In fact, Wienke said, that’s part of the lesson for these girls, that causes such as environmental preservation and ensuring public access to protected lands are worth being involved in regardless of whether they are close to home.

“This helps open their eyes to what it means to be engaged citizens,” he said.

This summer, the Scouts will spread the word about the effort to preserve Cedar Gorge at farmers markets and other events and, independent from Troop 1401, hold bake sales to raise money they will donate to the Land Trust for the purchase of the property.

“Now we need the kids to engage in this effort,” Wienke said. “Our next step is fundraising.”

Wienke, an Eagle Scout turned Scout leader, said the Land Trust’s mission of preserving Lake Michigan bluff land that if not protected will certainly be developed inspired him to get his troop involved in the effort, as did the actions of legislators who effectively blocked state funding for the land purchase.

“I also wanted to be involved because of the difficult position the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust was put in with how the grant was blocked,” he said.

The Ozaukee Washington Land Trust has been working for years to purchase the Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs property on the far south side of the City of Port Washington from Waukesha State Bank for $5 million and had seemingly reached its fundraising goal when the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources earmarked $2.3 million from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund for the acquisition. But approval of the grant stalled when it came before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance after an anonymous legislator objected to the grant.

A lesser amount for the Cedar Gorge project — $1.6 million — was then proposed, and with additional fundraising the Land Trust was again poised to buy the land, but committee members have refused to meet to consider the grant after having been approached by a lobbyist representing a prospective buyer who would develop the property.

The state grant for the nature preserve is presumed dead.

That spurred a proposal by Ozaukee County, which would operate the Cedar Gorge Clay Bluff Nature Preserve much like it does Lion’s Den, to contribute an additional $1 million to the acquisition. That proposal, however, was rejected by the County Board.

“Keep in mind that we were finished with our fundraising campaign. We had the money when all of a sudden we were faced with this challenge,” Knobloch said, referring to the loss of the state grant. “But this hasn’t been seen as a challenge just for us but a challenge accepted by the growing number of people who are joining the effort to preserve this land.”

News earlier this year that the state grant was dead in committee jump-started the Land Trust’s renewed fundraising effort, attracting a legion of supporters in what is perceived by some as a David vs. Goliath fight against a well-heeled developer.

In many ways, Knobloch said, the Scouts of Troop 1401 are indicative of the broad cross section of supporters whose contributions are measured not only by what they contribute financially but also in the time and effort they devote to advocating for the protection of the Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs land.

“The response has been unprecedented, and not just in terms of the dollars raised but in the support this effort is receiving,” she said. “It’s amazing the number of people who are getting involved in this effort. Every day the (funding) gap keeps shrinking.”

Officially, the Land Trust has raised $3.7 million of the $5.2 million it needs to purchase the property before its option to do so expires in September, although that amount does not include some commitments its received, Knobloch said.

Although there is still work to do, she said, the Land Trust is confident it will meet its fundraising goal.

“Out of this adversity has come such a great effort by so many people,” Knobloch said. “And just imagine all the great stories people will have when this land becomes the Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs Nature Preserve, like ‘I gave this to save this land’ or ‘I did that to raise awareness.’”



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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.

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