ARGYLE — Katie Abbott of Clyde missed hiking, birding and feeling like she was in a wilderness so much that she took a short walk through the land in Lafayette County she assisted in transforming into the Erickson Conservation Area.
Abbott has since taken another position in land conservation, but she used to work for the Driftless Area Land Conservancy, stationed in Dodgeville and serving Iowa, Lafayette, Richland and Sauk counties, along with portions of Green and Dane counties.
The DALC made a 220-acre parcel then owned by Alex and Mary Erickson their first fee purchase about six years ago. Prior, DALC had recorded 27 land easements in the six-county area.
The Ericksons worked out a bargain sale with DALC, donating some money back for a charitable tax advantage.
The conservancy accomplished another first with the Erickson property, transforming it as an ambassador landscape with the primary goal being connecting people to the land.
The land was acquired in part with grants from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund and the Paul E. Stry and the James E. Dutton foundations. A volunteer group of residents from the Argyle area worked with DALC’s Erickson Management Team to improve the facilities for those who bird, hike, view wildlife, hunt, fish, trap and ski on the property.
Recent studies have shown that children who are exposed to nature often develop a lasting love and appreciation of nature as young adults.
Sarah Kyrie, public library director in Argyle, has held numerous nature walks at the site, relying on trails, some boardwalks and bridges, and signage to introduce young students and sometimes adults to natural areas.
“The students, many who have never been on a boardwalk over marshland, found it exciting to see wildlife and plants in this manner,” Kyrie said.
Even though the Erickson Conservation Area is largely lowland along a one-mile stretch of the East Branch of the Pecatonica River — which flows from its origin near Barneveld south to Blanchardville — Argyle and beyond is prairie, savanna, marshland and numerous ponds as well as a riverine habitat.
The public can best access the property at its main entrance near the Argyle School District buildings. Users are free to go off-trail. Only non-motorized travel is allowed. No fee or membership card is required.
Cranes, songbirds, turtles (including the threatened Blanding’s turtle), frogs, fox, deer, butterflies, fish and numerous wildflowers and trees can be seen during season.
Neale Tollakson, a longtime Argyle resident and now volunteer at the conservation area, used to recreate there and now works to improve it for others.
“I’ve even seen pelicans here in the ponds as they pass through,” he said as a frog jumped off a trail, hitting his leg. “We’re somewhat limited in what we can do due to costs but are able to find labor for most projects, such as this prairie remnant.”
“I really like this parcel,” Abbott said. “And it’s within walking distance of the village and easy driving distance for many.”
Visitors have also come from farther away, including birders from Madison and campers at nearby Yellowstone State Park, five miles northwest.
“We’re that little gem, that little secret place people are just now finding and learning about,” Kyrie said.
Jerry Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.