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Cherokee Marsh addition

The land acquisition announced Thursday would connect county-owned land to the west and the state-owned Cherokee Marsh Fishery Area to the southeast, opening up more access to the Yahara River in DeForest, above.

Dane County is partnering with a local land trust to acquire more than 100 acres around Cherokee Marsh north of Madison, opening up more access to the Yahara River and recreational opportunities while also ensuring immigrant families can continue to farm some of the land.

County officials on Thursday announced the more than $322,000 in federal, state and county grants to Groundswell Conservancy to buy 95.5 acres in the village of DeForest and 10.9 acres in the village of Waunakee. Both properties will become part of the Cherokee Marsh Natural Resource Area.

“I am proud to partner with Groundswell Conservancy to increase access to recreational activities, clean up our lakes and manage our natural resources more efficiently,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said. “The addition of these properties to our conservation efforts will ensure their enjoyment for years to come.”

The larger, DeForest property includes 2,750 feet of frontage along the Yahara River and will connect county-owned land to the west and the state-owned Cherokee Marsh Fishery Area to the southeast.

Cherokee Marsh

“The property will provide migration and nesting habitat for waterfowl and other migratory birds while also providing river bank protection for spawning northern pike and water-quality protection of Lake Mendota,” county spokeswoman Stephanie Miller said.

It is expected to cost $214,640. The funds will come from a $17,070 county grant, the state’s Knowles Nelson Stewardship Grant Program, Groundswell Conservancy and a grant from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act.

Groundswell is acquiring the smaller property in Waunakee from a farmer. The land, situated off Bong Road west of River Road, is on a plateau that overlooks the Yahara River and will fill an ownership gap between the Cherokee Marsh State Natural Area and the Westport Drumlin Preserve.

Currently, the farmer leases the 10.9 acres to Hmong families to grow food, said Jim Welsh, executive director for Groundswell.

“As the landowner is retiring, she wanted to ensure that use could continue, so the Hmong farmers could continue to have a place to grow,” he said.

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Walking through the marsh

Dane County and a conservation group plan to acquire more than 100 acres surrounding Cherokee Marsh. Above, Russ Hefty, a guide on a Wisconsin Natural Resources Foundation birdwatching field trip at Cherokee Marsh, leads participants through a prairie in search of red-headed woodpeckers in 2016

Welsh said the families use the property for subsistence farming or growing food for farmer’s markets. Groundswell plans to partner with Community GroundWorks, which manages the Troy Gardens community garden on Madison’s North Side, to manage the property.

The smaller parcel is expected to cost $107,590 with Dane County providing $26,897 in a matching grant. Welsh said a donor is providing funds to cover half the acquisition cost.

The land — and an adjacent conservation easement agreed to by the farmer — could allow for a pedestrian path to connect the Westport Drumlin Preserve to county-owned land east of River Road.

“These are great opportunities to help enlarge the public’s abilities to enjoy some of our great resources,” Welsh said.

Groundswell, previously known as the Dane County Natural Heritage Foundation and the Natural Heritage Land Trust, has been involved with previous acquisitions for the Cherokee Marsh Natural Resource Area as well as other projects in the region.

Last year, the county purchased 53 acres and took on responsibility of protecting another 77 acres in the Cherokee Marsh area at a price of $1.5 million.

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Logan Wroge has been a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal since 2015.