(First published in the September 12, 2019 issue of the City Pages)
A key parcel just north of the Eau Claire Dells park is now owned by the North Central Conservancy Trust
The Mumford property straddles about a half-mile of a scenic, boulder-filled section of the Eau Claire River, north of Hwy. 52.
The North Central Conservancy Trust is trying a bit of an experiment with 160 acres of preserved land a few miles north and upstream of the Dells of the Eau Claire County Park.
The trust exists to conserve natural areas in this part of Wisconsin, not to operate parklands, but they’re allowing access to this scenic, riverfront parcel to those willing to check in via phone and get directions to what is now an unmarked site in the town of Harrison, about 16 miles northeast of Wausau.
“It’s kind of a hidden gem,” says Janet Smith, executive director of the 25-year-old Conservancy Trust, which has an office in Stevens Point.
The property is part wetlands but mostly mixed hardwood-conifer forests that will now be allowed to mature and evolve naturally. The most dramatic part of this protected land: 3,000 feet of river frontage, as the property straddles half a mile of the boulder-strewn, fast-flowing Eau Claire River.
In January, the land was donated to the conservancy by the Mumford family. Nearly 20 years earlier, Luigi Mumford and her late husband, Manly, were concerned enough about preserving their property in its natural state that they granted conservancy easements with the trust in 2000. Those easements guaranteed—via an agreement that’s part of the deed for the property—that the land would never be developed or exploited by logging or mining.
Then on Jan. 15 of this year, Luigi Mumford, who is now 88, decided to just donate the entire property to the conservancy trust. There are no electric lines to the site, and a small cabin built there will stay.
Smith and Outreach Coordinator Emily Weber say the eventual goal is to make this now conservancy-owned land available to the public for low-impact activities such as hiking, ski touring, snowshoeing, fishing, berry-picking, photography and birdwatching. If the activity is non-motorized, chances are it’s OK, but the directors of the trust want to ease into making it wide open to everyone.
“They can call us and we can tell them what’s allowed on the property,” Smith says.
Smith especially likes the three granite ridges that she says are only second in beauty to the rock formations at the Dells of the Eau Claire. She says, “It’s really scenic and in the spring the wildflowers just carpet the forest floor.”
Weber says the educational value of the Mumford property is enhanced in an unexpected way by two nearby stone quarries. “It’s surrounded by properties that show what would happen if the land is not preserved,” Weber says.
The North Central Conservancy Trust was formed in Wausau by Tuck Mallery and Dr. Joe Freeman in 1994 and later merged with a similar group in Stevens Point. Its territory now includes eight counties: Wood, Waushara, Marathon, Lincoln, Portage, Taylor, Clark and Adams. Over the years they’ve preserved 4,300 acres with 52 conservation easements, which are voluntary legal agreements between the owner and the trust to protect conservation values into perpetuity. “They run forever with the deed,” Smith explains.
The land trust monitors properties under its purview to see if they’re in compliance and defends the easement if there’s a violation. This function costs money, so property owners usually donate to a fund to support that continuing work. Parcels can change hands. One 160-acre property within the trust in Adams County is for sale now (with the deed restrictions); one in Lincoln County is a “life estate,” allowing the owner to live there for the rest of his life.
Smith says the property owners who work with the conservancy care about their land and don’t want to worry that, once they’re gone, it might be sliced up for a subdivision or other development. “Owners are very proud of their land, they love it,” she says. Timber harvests are often allowed, but under a managed forest plan.
Find more information about the North Central Conservancy Trust online at ncctwi.org, or call 715-344-1910.
Another reason visitors need to call ahead to visit the Mumford property on the Eau Claire River is that there’s no frontage on a public road and there’s no driveway. The land is accessed by driving a half-mile through a neighbor’s farm fields, and marked by a small sign near a gate.