DRIFTLESS - WDNR Conservation Warden David Youngquist was honored for his years of service at the Friends of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway (FLOW) annual meeting on Saturday, Jan. 30. FLOW awarded Youngquist the ‘2020 Riverway Champion’ award.
Youngquist has been the conservation warden whose beat covered the Wisconsin River from Sauk City to Lone Rock, “the party stretch,” for 21 years, from 1999 to 2021. Youngquist will retire this year.
“The most rewarding thing about my years on the river has been seeing large groups camping on a sandbar, and seeing them leave it as clean as they found it,” Youngquist said. “I always worried, but when I talked to them, I realized that they valued the resource as much as I do.”
When presented with the engraved birchwood plaque commemorating his award, Youngquist responded in his typical, humble fashion.
“It is a big honor for me to receive this award,” Youngquist said. “This is a great memento of my time on the river, and it has been a tremendous experience for me over the years to work with FLOW because they really are a group that gets things done.”
Youngquist said that over the years he has been “only one of the riverway guardians.” It has been a partnership between the WDNR, volunteers, first responders and citizens enjoying the resource.
“I think that the biggest threat to the riverway going forward will be the pressure on it from the sheer numbers of people that come out to enjoy the riverway,” Youngquist said. “Just in one day, at the end of August, I observed 2,5000 people on my 32-mile stretch of the river.”
High praise indeed
FLOW president Timm Zumm had nothing but praise for Youngquist and the particular style he brought to his job patrolling the river.
“David is definitely deserving of this award,” Zumm said. “My observation has been that since his first week on the job, he has gone above and beyond his job description. He always treated people respectfully, and with discretion, making sure that people had life preservers, helping out with the scouts, and more. He’s just an all-around great guy.”
Executive Director of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway State Board (LWSRB) Mark Cupp also had glowing praise for Youngquist.
“David is very deserving of the FLOW award,” Cupp said. “He has always been very professional in all the years I have worked with him, helpful and responsive, and someone I could always get a quick answer from. I appreciate all of his efforts that have made the riverway a safer, better place.”
Cupp told a story of going out with Youngquist in his boat on a patrol of the river. The two encountered an old couple out in their boat fishing. Cupp remembered that he looked at the couple, and assumed that they would just motor on by. He was surprised when Youngquist decided to pull up to the couple’s boat and begin a conversation.
“He talked with them, checked on their lifejackets, and I thought that would be the end of it,” Cupp remembered chuckling. “But then he went on to check in their coolers for glass, and have them pull their stringer out to measure their fish.”
Cupp said that he was impressed with Youngquist’s nice manner with people throughout the experience, which he observed, always seemed to make people want to cooperate with him.
“After it was over, I was pretty relieved that I hadn’t had to see David issue a couple of octogenarians out fishing a ticket though,” Cupp said.
Retired WDNR water quality biologist Jean Unmuth worked on the Wisconsin River for years, along with Youngquist.
“I really enjoyed my years of working with you,” Unmuth said. “You were exceptional in that you didn’t just concentrate on the game and fish laws like so many wardens do – you also did a great job focusing on the water quality issues, and always were willing to help us with projects like determining the ordinary high water marks.”
In accepting his award, Youngquist recounted some of the more memorable undertakings of his time on the river.
Youngquist told of a problem in the river, just off the beach in Mazomanie. A power company’s electrical tower had fallen over in the river. The twisted, rusted remains had proved an impediment for boaters and swimmers for years, and Youngquist resolved to remove the wreckage from the river.
“Timm Zumm and I came up with a plan to get dumpsters to the lower parking lot at the beach, and I was able to talk WDNR fisheries heavy equipment operators, Dale Gasser and Cale Severson, into assisting in the removal of the twisted metal with a large back hoe with a clam shell clamp,” Youngquist remembered. “It was quite an undertaking to line up the dumpsters, the heavy equipment and operators, and volunteers from FLOW, at just the time that the river levels were low enough to permit the operation to go forward.”
In all, Youngquist remembers that the group was able to remove 12,000 pounds of old, rusty steel from the river.
Perhaps even more exciting was an experience where Youngquist was involved in the clean up of an island on the river near Arena. In the 1960s and 1970s, some people had built two cabins on the 3.7 acre island, and had been paying taxes on the property as well.
“It was unclear who really owned the property – the residents or the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), but after all the years of them paying taxes, I didn’t really think that issuing a fine for cabins built illegally in the floodplain was going to do anyone any good,” Youngquist remembered. “My main goal was to get the cabins cleaned up, and out of the water, and I realized that it would take the cooperation of multiple partners to get that done.”
Youngquist first had to work with the BLM to establish who actually owned the properties. He said it took him several visits to the Iowa County Courthouse, accompanied by BLM employees from Milwaukee, to review county records, and begin to get to the bottom of the ownership issues. The effort even involved a visit to a local nursing home to talk with the residents about what they remembered.
“Local rumor had it that a local family were the ones claiming ownership, and who had built the cabins,” Youngquist explained. “It was BLM that footed the bill for the entire project, and I really just functioned as the community organizer.”
In the end, WDNR employees along with FLOW volunteers were able to get out on the island and clean up the cabins and the extensive debris and personal belongings that were strewn about. The clean up even involved removing an old VW Bus, which Youngquist believed had been driven out to the island when the river was frozen.
Youngquist has also been active with education efforts in area schools and with scout groups in an effort to inspire the next generation with a love of the river.
“Along with Timm Zumm and Jennifer Kerr, we began an effort of giving 45-minute talks to local youth to promote river safety and enjoyment,” Youngquist remembered. “We got started on this after the drowning of Angela Girton in the river near Gotham in 2015. The last thing we wanted was to see parents and children decide that the river was too dangerous, and not get the next generation out to enjoy the river and appreciate the resource.”
Youngquist remembered that over the years, he had had the privilege of bringing numerous school groups to the river. He said that he had been able to talk with them about river safety and wildlife habitat. He said that many of these local kids had never been out on the river, and had no idea of what a treasure they had in their own backyard.“I just want to say thank you so much to FLOW for recognizing my work along this amazing resource for the past 21 years,” Youngquist said in closing. “It really does mean a lot to know that the next warden for my stretch of the river will get the amazing support that I’ve enjoyed from FLOW in my years on the job.”