A 144-acre bluff land on the Great River Road slated for residential development will instead expand the Sugar Creek Bluff State Natural Area here, thanks to a donor-funded purchase by the Mississippi Valley Conservancy.
MVC received the majority of financial support from the Knowles Nelson Stewardship Fund to buy the land from Thomas and Paul Sampson, who had the property for sale as residential site with a view of the Mississippi River. The state funds were matched by a $50,000 grant from the Paul E. Stry Foundation of LaCrosse and other donors, including the Ferryville Rod and Gun Club, the Wisconsin Land Fund, Whitetails Unlimited and individual donors, including one anonymous donor who contributed $10,000.
State funds for the Sampson purchase were from the current state budget. Legislators are now considering a freeze in such funding that might last until 2028.
Carol Abrahamzon, MVC Executive Director, said this opportunity to add to Sugar Creek Bluff provides a total of 420-acres open to the public for hunting, fishing, hiking, bird watching and other family recreation.
"Adding this parcel will benefit the students of De Soto Junior High and High School, who have adopted Sugar Creek Bluff, doing restoration workdays as well as environmental education activities,” according to Abrahamzon. “They work to control invasive species, conduct invertebrate surveys, do GIS mapping, stream shocking, and other projects on the land.”
The original 110-acre purchase of Sugar Creek Bluff, also supported by the Stewardship Fund, in 1999, was MVC's first owned property. Additional lands were purchased as they became available and as funds were available. Hundreds of hours of volunteer and staff labor have gone into restoring habitat on the property's prairies and woodlands.
Andy and Laura Patten, who own property next to the state natural area were asked how they would describe it to someone who hadn't been there before. Andy said it "combines all the natural beauty of the Driftless in a setting that makes it easy for anyone to access. The goat prairie, a spring-fed trout stream, the full range of the oak savanna and woodland ecosystem, grasslands and an abundance of rare and native plant and animal species all exist there to be appreciated and enjoyed." Laura said, "if today was my last day on earth, I'd like to spend part of it on Sugar Creek Bluff. Seeing the bluff out my window when I’m at work reminds me that when people work together, we can make good decisions that will reward the land and others for generations to come."
“We know you’re good stewards,” Thomas Sampson said regarding MVC's purchase. “We like the fact it’s being preserved."
Joanne White, member of the Ferryville Tourism Council, said that the bluff land is part of Ferryville's identity as the smallest of the 93 cities in the Bird City Wisconsin program.
"We're thrilled to have it protected," White said. The community co-sponsors public hikes on the property with MVC. She said the rare cerulean warbler has been seen on each of the hikes she has attended.
MVC has made more than 4,000 acres available for public access in its nine-county area in southwest Wisconsin since it was founded in 1997. Another 12,000 acres have been permanently protected through conservation agreements with private landowners. For more information, see mississippivalleyconservancy.org.