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Sixty acres of restored prairie that is now part of Holy Wisdom Monastery near Middleton will be purchased by Dane County for $929,000 and kept wild into perpetuity under a plan announced Thursday by County Executive Joe Parisi.

The property is in the town of Westport and across County M from Governor Nelson State Park. It is the largest ever acquisition of land by the county so close to Lake Mendota, Parisi said.

That’s critical because the county’s effort to clean up area lakes focuses on the North Mendota Watershed, he said. Restored prairie reduces stormwater runoff, keeping elements such as phosphorous from getting into the lakes.

“It’s a natural filter for our lakes,” said Sister Mary David Walgenbach, a member of the Benedictine Women of Madison, the group that owns the monastery and about 200 acres around it. About 95 acres have been restored to prairie, a process the sisters and scores of county and monastery volunteers began in the mid-1990s.

Holy Wisdom Monastery is an ecumenical community with a chapel and a retreat center. Although the sisters theoretically could have sold the land for development, this approach fits with their mission of environmental stewardship and sustainability, Walgenbach said.

“We know we place our precious prairie in the trustworthy hands of Dane County,” she said.

The money for the purchase will come from the county’s lake preservation fund, Parisi said. The purchase price includes an additional five to six acres of easement near the monastery that is expected to be needed for a future bike trail along County M, he said. That brings the total purchase to around 65 acres.

The purchase needs County Board approval, Parisi said. The board is expected to act on it in August.

“This is so important to the county’s mission that I don’t anticipate any problems,” Parisi said.

The parcel to be purchased by the county includes hiking trails that are open to the public. The county will continue to make the land available for that purpose, with volunteers continuing to help maintain the trails and prairie, said Laura Guyer, real estate and acquisition director for the county.

The land will be taken off the tax rolls. The parcel currently is taxed as agricultural land, Guyer said. The total tax bill has been less than $500 annually, she said.

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