Tunnelville Cliffs State Natural Area and Kings Point Farm
Along the east branch of the Kickapoo River in Vernon County sit multiple spectacular MVC-protected properties, including Tunnelville Cliffs State Natural Area and the adjacent Kings Point Farm Tract.
Mississippi Valley Conservancy permanently protected Tunnelville Cliffs in May 2005. The DNR designated the site as a State Natural Area in 2006. Among the many noteworthy features of Tunnelville Cliffs State Natural Area are east facing Cambrian sandstone cliffs with seepages at the base, the Kickapoo River and an associated wetland, a small goat prairie, wooded ridges and a hilltop with a fantastic overlook of the valley. This is a great property to visit any time of the year with wildflowers and sand hill cranes in the spring, the lush greenness of summer, changing colors of fall, and icicles on the cliffs to see in the winter.
In December 2009, the Babson family, former owners of the Chicago-based Surge milking machine business that was part of the modernization of dairy farming, donated to Mississippi Valley Conservancy 1,118 acres on the Kickapoo River north of Viola in Vernon County. The site includes springs, creeks, over 9,000 feet of frontage on the Kickapoo River, forests, cliffs, prairie, sedge meadow, and open grasslands. It hosts populations of the state threatened Henslow's sparrow and the state threatened cherrystone drop snail.
In May 2013, the Babson family donated a conservation easement on 983 additional acres. In addition, two other adjacent landowners donated conservation easements on their properties. MVC now has 2,278 contiguous acres protected on the Kickapoo River—a total area larger than 43 of Wisconsin’s state parks.
Kings Point Farm an astonishing gift that gives further protection to important ecological features and wildlife as well as increasing public access to this spectacular part of the Wisconsin landscape. The Babsons' initial donation, appraised at $2.5 million, is the largest gift of land received by the MVC since it was started in 1997, and the 2013 conservation easement is MVC's largest ever. MVC's president Patrick Caffrey said, "I think I can speak for all the people of Wisconsin in expressing our gratitude to the Babsons for their splendid gifts."
Jean Babson said her late husband, James Babson, who served as president of Babson Brothers Company, bought farms in the area some 35 years ago and consolidated them into a grazing operation with as many as 1,000 head of beef cattle. She has happy memories of the family and friends gathering at the cabin they built on a ridge high above the Kickapoo in 1971. The family is keeping the cabin and some of the surrounding property, which is now under an MVC conservation easement.
Jean Babson and her husband lived in the Chicago area where the company was headquartered. "James Babson had vision, had a love of the land. The whole place meant a lot to (him)...not just the cattle, but being here. It’s such a beloved part of the country that meant so much to me and (my husband), and it’s nice to know its going to be in good hands.”
In the spring of 2010, MVC conducted its largest-ever prescribed burn on the property to restore some of the rare native habitat, including oak savanna.
The initial 1,118-acre portion of the Kings Point Farm is open for public access, including hiking, hunting, trapping, fishing, snowshoeing and bird watching. Various guided hikes for the public have occurred on the land.
The 983-acre conservation easement portion remains under the private ownership of the Babson family, although it is permanently protected from inappropriate development and mining by MVC. This portion of the farm is not open to the public, and it remains on the tax rolls.
Directions: From La Farge, WI, head east on W Main St. Turn right onto WI- 131 S/S State St Continue to follow WI-131 S. Turn Right onto Tunnelville Rd, left onto County rd SS and destination and parking is 2.5 miles on the right after the road curves to the south.
From La Crosse take 14/61 east to westby, in westby turn left onto 27 for.5 miles then turn right onto Cty rd P, Follow P until you reach the T at Cty rd D (take a left onto D) Follow D until you reach 82 then turn right, take your first left onto Husker hollow rd and follow until you reach tunnelville rd and turn right onto tunnelville rd, then turn left onto Cty rd SS. Follow SS for 2.5 miles, destination parking is on the right after the road curves to the south.
TV news stories about this project can be seen at http://youtu.be/XeKwRVdOw8o .
Click here for a printable map of the publicly-accessible portions of Tunnelville Cliffs State Natural Area and Kings Point Farm.