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Farmers and friends gather on conservation’s heartland
In Coon Valley
CCCWC_Monique and Orlan
DR. MONIQUE HASSMAN, Vernon County Watershed Planner, is seen conversing with farmer Orlan Bakkum prior to the meeting. Bakkum is also the chairman of the Town of Coon Board.

COON VALLEY - Seventeen farmers and interested members of the community gathered in rural Coon Valley at the Conservation Club (CVCC) for a meeting of the newly formed Coon Creek Community Watershed Council. The meeting took place on December 1, with meetings planned for the first Wednesday of each month at the location during the winter. Their next meeting will take place on Wednesday, Jan. 5, starting at 7 p.m.

Conservation Club Vice President Paul King was on-hand to give meeting participants an overview of the club’s history and work. 

“The club has been in existence since 1941, and the club grounds include 197 acres, with 30 acres of rented farmland, a nine-acre food plot, 35-40 acres of old pasture, and our forests are enrolled in the Forest Preservation Program,” King explained. “If you explore the property, you can still find evidence of the works of the Civilian Conservation Corps, put in place starting in the 1930s.”

King explained that the club property is comprised of their clubhouse, storage building, rental house, archery range, gun range, campsite, trout rearing tanks, freshwater pond, children's playground, and a wilderness trail. He said that the longest-running project of the club was their trout rearing effort. 

He said that over the years the club had raised both brook trout and brown trout, but in recent years their focus had shifted to just rearing brook trout, which they stock in small, cold tributaries of Coon Creek.

CCC_Traastad and soil pit
A SOIL PIT dug in the middle of Traastad’s cover crop planting was used to demonstrate his soil health successes and remaining challenges to the farmers assembled for the meeting.

Oak Savanna project

King said that club member Kevin Traastad was leading an oak savanna restoration project on the club’s property. Reached after the meeting, Traastad had this to say about the project:

“The Oak Savana restoration is funded by the club, and is about seven acres in size.  The project started about 15 years ago,” Traastad said.  “The non-desirable species, such as Black Locust, were removed during the first few years of the project, and a few hundred edge tree species were planted by the Boy Scouts in about 2013. Unfortunately, I think the deer actually ate all of them.”

Traastad said that prior to seeding, as much of the area as possible was treated with an herbicide to reduce as much of the existing brome grass, timothy and other grasses typically found in old pastures as possible.   A diverse mix of native grasses and forbes were seeded with a no-till drill in the fall of 2014.  The areas that were too steep to drive on with a tractor were frost seeded by hand in the late winter/early spring of 2015.   He said that the CVCC had a company do a controlled burn on the site in the spring of 2018. 

CCCWC_Adolf Lee
THIS OLD PICTURE of Adolph Lee and his dog ‘Old Dan’ from 1917 is seen pinned to a cork bulletin board in the Coon Creek Conservation Club’s meeting room. Lee was the first vice president of the club, and frequently hosted Aldo Leopold on his farm.

Burton Lee

Tacked to a cork bulletin board in the clubhouse was a picture of the club’s first vice president, Adolph Lee and his dog ‘Old Dan.’ The picture was taken in 1917. Lee was a farmer-leader in the Coon Creek Watershed Project starting in the 1930s, and Aldo Leopold was a frequent visitor to his farm, just to the north of the Village of Coon Valley. A Civilian Conservation Corps tree nursery was located on the Lee farm, as well as the first trout-rearing pond of the CVCC.

Lee’s son Burton Lee was one of the founding members of the new Coon Creek Community Watershed Council, and was known to have sat on Aldo Leopold’s lap as a child, listening to his father and Leopold discuss their shared interest in conservation and wildlife.

Burton Lee was one of the first to welcome Dr. Stanley Trimble and his team of researchers to the Coon Creek Watershed. Trimble conducted iconic research on the effects of soil erosion in the watershed starting in the 1970s. His research led him to publish  the book, ‘Historical Agriculture and Soil Erosion in the Upper Mississippi Valley Hill Country.’ Burton Lee and his wife were lifelong friends with Stanley Trimble and his wife.

Burton Lee, at the age of 91, was present at Sidie Hollow County Park on September 12, when Stanley Trimble presented an overview of his research. Trimble had been invited by the Tainter Creek Watershed Council to make the presentation. Sadly, Burton Lee passed away on Sunday, November 14, 2021 at his home. 

Lee was born on June 21, 1930 to Adolph and Thea (Moilien) Lee in Coon Valley. 

Burton Lee graduated from Westby High School and went on to complete the Farmer’s Short Course. He then studied at UW-Madison and UW-Platteville, graduating with a degree in Biology. In 1964, Burton received his Master’s Degree in Biology from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

At the watershed council meeting, Lee’s younger relative, Marc Moilien, read a statement about Burton Lee and his lifelong interest in conservation matters.

CCCWC_Ashley and Brad
BRAD ROBSON is seen talking with Coon Creek Watershed farmer Ashley Olson prior to the start of the meeting. Robson was invited to make a presentation to the group about the planting of cover crops using a drone seeder.

Council matters

The meeting of the watershed council was facilitated by farmer Ashley Olson, and addressed a few organizational topics prior to the keynote presentation about drone cover crop seeding.

Olson said that at the November 3 meeting of the group there had been a lot of new faces. She said that the group had discussed opportunities for grant funding for producer-led watershed councils in addition to the DATCP grant program. She said that at the meeting, Monroe County Conservationist Bob Micheel gave a presentation about the Agricultural Enterprise Area program.

Vernon County Conservationist Ben Wojahn, who was present at the meeting, explained that Vernon County would allocate $4,000 of its 2022 Ho Chunk payment to the Coon Creek Watershed Council for “contracted professional services related to conservation goals and practices.”

Because group member Nancy Wedwick was not able to be present at the meeting, they chose to postpone their discussion of organization structure to the January meeting. Wojahn reported that the group could expect to hear back about their DATCP Producer-Led Watershed Council grant application in December or January.

Vernon County Supervisor Rod Ofte pointed out that landowner Dan Korn was building a grade stabilization dam on his own property in an area that drains about 10-15 acres of land in the uplands of the Bohemian Valley branch of Coon Creek in LaCrosse County. LaCrosse County Conservationist Matt Hanewall confirmed that because of the breach in the Korn Dam in that watershed, his department had approved a one-time 100 percent payment of about $14,500 to build the structure. He said the goal is to slow down the runoff after rain events, and release it more slowly into the watershed.

“You can build one big dam for between $10-12 million that doesn’t work, or for the same cost, you can build a bunch of these kind of grade stabilization structures,” Ofte commented. “At this point, it seems that most landowners are more interested in these grade stabilization structures.”

There was discussion by the group of having a technician experienced in building these kind of structures speak to the group at a future meeting. Hanewall said that it was possible that his technician, who designed and oversaw the building of the structure on Dan Korn’s land, might be available. Wojahn said that he would also ask Vernon County’s technician, Matt Albright, if he could be available.

AeroSeeder demonstration
THE AEROSEEDER drone cover crop seeding device is seen lifting off over the fields on Brad Robson’s farm. The device inventor, Tom Leitgen, had farmer-members backed off to a safe distance as the whirring and buzzing device lifted off.

Drone seeding

Brad Robson, member of both the Tainter Creek and Bad Axe River watershed councils, provided the keynote address at the meeting. His subject was the planting of cover crops using a drone seeder. Robson and the Tainter Creek Watershed Council had hosted Iowa entrepreneur Tom Letigen for a demonstration of the drone cover crop seeder he invented on Friday, Sept. 10.

“I planted cover crops in my fields, into standing corn with the drone seeder, on September 10, and got great growth, tons of biomass, and 1.2 tons of dry matter,” Robson said. “I prefer use of the drone in our kind of country over seeding with a plane, and the cost of the drone seeding versus the cost of firing up my tractor and my time comes out as a wash.”

Robson told the group that Leitgen charged him $1 per pound for the seeding service. He explained, though, that Leitgen is more interested in selling the implements versus providing the service. He said that the device costs $14,000, and that Leitgen envisions custom applicators or groups of farmers purchasing the device.

Robson explained that the drone seeder flies at 50 feet over the field, and can seed 20 acres in about four hours. He said that each time the device goes up, it can carry a 30-pound load of seed. Since the seed weight per pound varies according to type of cover crop, the seed mix determines how many acres you can cover between having to stop and refill.

Robson said that his goals in planting cover crops on his acres are to prevent soil erosion, protect water quality, enhance soil health, and provide fodder for grazing of his beef cattle during the winter and early spring.

Another farmer from rural Cashton, who attended the meeting, has been planting cover crops for many years.

“It costs me about $1,647 each year to plant a winter rye cover crop,” he said. “If I can avoid repairing even two ditches in the spring before I plant, then the cost is worth it.”

More information about Tom Leitgen and his aeroseeder can be found at