Monroe County couple conserves land, water, and scenic beauty

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Photo by Tom Rhorer

SPARTA, WI – After decades of tree farming and conservation forestry on their 66-acre property north of Sparta, Wisconsin, Jack Halbrehder and wife Carolyn have permanently protected their land through a conservation agreement with Mississippi Valley Conservancy (MVC). The agreement, a conservation easement, protects the land from subdivision, development, and mining, even when ownership of the land changes hands. If you’ve ever enjoyed the scenic drive from Sparta to Black River Falls, you’ve seen the beauty of the forests along the way, and a stretch of that landscape is now conserved forever.

Jack and Carolyn were familiar with the land when it came up for sale in 1988. They could see it from the log home they had built with their own hands on adjacent property, and they appreciated the added privacy it gave to their rural home. There were agricultural fields along the valley bottom as there were some very steep valley slopes. They realized that several of these fields were highly eroded, and decided to convert them to tree plantings. At the time, Jack was a forester for Monroe County, and he knew very well how trees would protect the soil and water. He was named Monroe County Tree Farmer of the Year in 2011.

Jack and Carolyn, with the help of a neighbor, his tractor, and a planter planted several acres of black walnut and larch trees along the valley bottom fields near the highway. The ridge fields were planted with a mix of red and white pine as well as Christmas tree planting of fir trees. That first year 1,000 trees were planted. Over the next years a total of 200 to 500 trees were planted yearly, often by hand, to replace trees cut for sale. They sold Christmas trees for sixteen years from 2003-2019 as JCK Trees LLC. Carolyn baked countless batches of cookies, over the years, for families who delighted in coming out to hike up the hill into the woods to cut their own tree and then warm up with cookies and cider. 

Cropland before tree planting in 1989
Cropland photo taken in 1989 from same vantage point as forested photo at top of page. Jack and Carolyn reforested the land to protect soil, water, and scenic beauty.

“Over the years, Jack and Carolyn have followed their Managed Forest Law (MFL) forest management plan which includes southern dry, dry-mesic, and mesic forests,” said MVC conservation specialist Chris Kirkpatrick. “They invested in their forest resources years ago and have done an amazing job caring for their land and managing a diversity of forest types.”

The property offers exceptionally scenic views along Highways 27/71 including undeveloped ridgelines, scenic overlooks, and reforested areas. The entire property includes no building sites and will remain undeveloped in perpetuity. In addition, along the highway corridor, there are two unique and rare habitats including sandstone dry cliff and dry prairie that add to the scenic beauty as well as a diversity of rare habitats as dry prairie is considered a vulnerable habitat. In addition, the property includes seeps and springs that form the headwaters of Spencer Creek located two miles to the north, which is a part of the Big Creek watershed.  

“The forest and perennial vegetation of the property play a vital role in protecting the region’s ground and surface water,” said the Conservancy’s executive Director, Carol Abrahamzon. “Together, the undeveloped forest resources offer scenic beauty and wildlife habitat that are now protected in perpetuity. The property’s role in protecting water, wildlife, and climate are a benefit to all – today and forever.”