More Acres Protected in La Crosse Blufflands

Newly acquired land protects water, wildlife, climate, and scenic beauty
Conservancy Stories
News Releases
Abbie Church
Photo by Krysten Zummo

LA CROSSE, WI – In thinking about the La Crosse area, one of the first images that comes to mind is the iconic bluffs. They’re visible by boaters on the Mississippi River, from scenic overlooks in Minnesota, by walkers, bikers, and drivers on Highway 16 or throughout the city. One more prominent bluff has now been permanently protected along the La Crosse skyline. Local land trust, Mississippi Valley Conservancy recently purchased 44 acres, adding to a contiguous corridor of protected blufflands of more than 1,200 acres.

Long-time La Crosse resident and Conservancy board member, Bob Fisher, recalls helping with some boundary posting on a site acquired in 2005. A neighbor approached him asking what was going on and Bob explained the role of the site that the Conservancy had just acquired in partnership with the City of La Crosse and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. He explained that the land would be conserved to support area wildlife, prohibit residential development, and become open to public recreation for low-impact activities, such as hiking, nature photography, and bird watching. That neighbor was the late Robert “Bob” Kaplan. 

Bob and Frances Kaplan had lived and raised their daughters on the adjacent property for 40 years. “I met Fran at the house one day,” shared Abbie Church, conservation director for the Conservancy, “and one of the first things she said to me, was that her late husband told her if she ever decided to sell it (the land), to call the Conservancy first”. Which was exactly what she did. “Fran shared how much Bob had loved nature, walking in the woods, watching the wildlife, and just being outdoors.” Bob passed away in 2014, and Fran began making plans to move to Minnesota to be closer to her daughters. The house was sold to a private buyer and the remaining the land was sold to the Conservancy.

The property was identified early on by several organizations as a priority for conservation. The land is located within a corridor identified by the Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan as a conservation opportunity area of continental ecological significance. Mississippi River blufflands were prioritized early on by the Conservancy for the exceptional wildlife habitat. The site, located within the Town of Medary, is also identified as a priority in the Blufflands Coalition’s “Blufflands Conservation Plan for the La Crosse – La Crescent Region.” “This acquisition provides critical protected habitat in this urban area, helping the Bluffland Coalition meet the goal of promoting the success of native species important to the health and value of the blufflands,” said Patrick Wilson, president of the Blufflands Coalition.

This acquisition was made possible through funding provided by Wisconsin’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program and the Paul E. Stry Foundation. “The habitat here is exceptional,” said Church, “There are bur and white oak trees over 150-years old, and prairie vegetation reminiscent of the habitat that was here 200+ years ago.” Vertical bedrock exposures on the property include fissures and cavities that provide cover for area wildlife. 99.9% of Wisconsin prairies have been lost over time, and the Conservancy’s acquisition ensures that the prairie remaining on the Kaplan’s property will be managed to expand the prairie habitat and increase the health and native diversity. Conservancy staff and volunteers will soon begin habitat restoration including brush clearing and prescribed burning. Though the property will be open to the public for hiking and other activities, the primary goal of the Conservancy’s efforts will be to protect habitat for the benefit of local wildlife.

Anyone interested in becoming involved in the restoration activities of this site, or any of the Conservancy nature preserves, is invited to sign up at