Firm commitment to conservation is critical part of community’s well-being
What should we do with a guy who climbs a tree in a howling storm just to see what it must feel like to be a tree? Enshrine him.
We live in a community and a state full of heroes, both deceased and still with us. John Muir, who along with Aldo Leopold was one of the first two people enshrined in the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame (WCHF), is one of mine – partly because I admire a guy who can hang onto a tree branch while it’s waving back and forth in heavy winds, or so the story goes.
“In its widest sweeps my tree-top described an arc of from 20 to 30 degrees, but I felt sure of its elastic temper, having seen others of the same species still more severely tried – bent almost to the ground indeed, in heavy snows – without breaking a fiber,” wrote Muir in chapter 10 of his book “The Mountains of California.” “I was therefore safe, and free to take the wind into my pulses and enjoy the excited forest from my superb outlook.”
Muir was more than an adventuresome sort, though. A founder of the Sierra Club, one of the first true media voices of the conservation movement, and a Badger to boot, he probably could have made a fortune in manufacturing, but he left it to wander about in nature.
Muir is also one of the conservation heroes of my friend Joe Passineau, who is president of the WCHF and has been a member of the group since 1988, just three years after it was founded.
Passineau will oversee this weekend’s posthumous induction of Noel Cutright and Leroy Lintereur into the hall. Details about the event can be found on page 3 of this week’s Gazette, but knowing the event is coming up and having been thinking a lot about its meaning, I decided this week would be a good time to laud our state and local heroes, those both well-known and not.
Hero-volunteers bring us trout hiding places, people meeting-rooms
My trip last week to the beautiful Emmons Creek Hatchery Area and the Ice Age Trail in Portage County reminded me, as I wrote then, of the importance of volunteers, public-private partnerships, and a firm commitment to conservation principles being a critical part of our community well-being.
The creek, a Class I trout stream, also reminded me that some friends who belong to the Frank Hornberg Chapter of Trout Unlimited had invited me to their April 21 gathering to hear from Department of Natural Resources (DNR) biologist Tom Meronek about local trout streams.
I felt guilty about being unable to make it, as I knew Trout Unlimited has been heavily involved statewide in such issues as supporting trout habitat and even getting rid of excess dams and I admire what it’s done.
That makes it easy to want to praise them, so I called Meronek this week to ask for a recap of what he’d shared with the group regarding the health of local streams and the state of trout fishing in our area. We naturally also talked about some of the great work Trout Unlimited members have done.
Meronek noted a number of projects the group has helped with in the area, particularly on tributaries of the Tomorrow River such as Poncho Creek. Group members have worked on a 3,000-foot stretch of the creek, putting in rocks and other habitat structure to shelter trout.
He said many people would know the stretch because of its proximity to the road that goes into the Hot Shot Club north of Nelsonville, which sounds to me about like the kind of place that would make a man take up fishing, at least for a while.
Group members have also helped extensively in projects below Nelsonville, putting brush bundles, lumber structures and other structures into trout habitat to encourage larger and healthier populations.
“We rely on their assistance for volunteers, and they really on our expertise and data … we have an excellent relationship in general in the local area,” Meronek said. “Without that relationship we’d be in a bind a lot of times. The manpower that they can get out there helps us tremendously.”
In talking to Passineau this week, I found similar reasons to praise the members of the WCHF.
Visitors to Schmeeckle Reserve’s visitor center may know for its wonderful interpretive exhibits about the history of our people’s relationship to nature. They may not know the WCHF actually helped fund the reserve’s headquarters building.
That includes the meeting room where community groups, especially conservation-minded ones, have gathered over the years to conceive, plan and begin carrying out projects that make our outdoor life in central Wisconsin so wonderful.
“If you think about how a little catalyst can help a lot of people, that’s it,” Passineau said. He also said Schmeeckle gets a lot of credit for what the Hall does and the Hall gets a lot of credit for what Schmeeckle does, which seems as it should be in a good symbiotic relationship.
When we got to talking about conservation heroes and I asked who his were, he named Muir, Leopold, Sigurd Olson, Gaylord Nelson and others. “That’s a great question,” he laughed. “If you’ve got five weeks, I’ll tell you.”
Of course, we ought to be able to count folks like Passineau and all the foundation members, as well as all Trout Unlimited members and virtually anybody who works on making our outdoor world better, among our own Wisconsin heroes.
Maybe they didn’t all ride a tree in a storm like Muir – or invent a combination bed-alarm clock to tip himself out of bed like Muir did when he was a University of Wisconsin student – but these volunteers are still pretty impressive folks.
Certainly the kind we all owe a drink from the Hot Shot Club, at the very least.