Aldo Leopold, forester and wildlife ecologist, purchased an abandoned property on the banks of the Wisconsin River in 1935. On some of the least promising of lands but with some of the most stirring of results, he initiated a land-use recovery there from unprofitable farming to private land protection, wildlife management, and habitat rehabilitation.
When subdivision of floodplain lands close to Leopold’s “Shack” was starting to destroy in the early 1960s what Leopold had initiated, Reed Coleman, Leopold’s godson, along with a few friends and neighbors, took private action. They forged a voluntary alliance of neighboring landowners. Together they created the Leopold Memorial Reserve.
Today, this early land trust, located in Sauk County in south central Wisconsin, comprises about 1,900-acres of private land. The Reserve represents a cooperative partnership between Sand County Foundation and other private landowners in and around the original Aldo Leopold farm and “Shack” written about in A Sand County Almanac.
Sand County Foundation coordinates Reserve-wide management and landscape ecological research. For nearly forty years the various habitats on the Reserve’s private lands have been dedicated to conservation improvement. The lands are heavily used for landowner enjoyment, support of peer-reviewed quality research, long-term monitoring of savannas and grasslands, understanding of floodplain ecology, and support of incentive-based effort to improve the deer herd and its habitat.
The empowerment of private landowners to work together for common purposes that Leopold wrote of, with such vision and conviction, has no better literal illustration than the Leopold Memorial Reserve.