SAUK CITY - Thirty years ago, a bipartisan effort in the state legislature passed Act 31, which created the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway. The effort was born of a strong grassroots effort led by 30-year Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board (LWSRB) Executive Director Mark Cupp, along with Republican and Democratic members of the state legislature.
The Riverway extends 92.3 miles from below the dam at Prairie du Sac to the confluence with the Mississippi River near Prairie du Chien. It encompasses 95,893 acres, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is responsible for administering a land acquisition program within the project boundaries.
The Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board (LWSRB), was created to administer the new law. The board is composed of nine members, of which six must be local residents or local elected officials from the affected counties (Columbia, Crawford, Dane, Grant, Iowa, Richland and Sauk). The agency administers a system of ‘performance standards,’ which are designed to protect the aesthetic integrity of the Riverway.
Governor Tommy Thompson, who signed the bill into law, as well as former Wisconsin State Senator Dale Schultz and State Representative Spencer Black, were on hand to join in the celebration. Both legislators were instrumental in leading the process. They were also instrumental in engaging with grassroots stakeholders, such as the local official advisory committee and local landowners.Thompson, the longest serving Governor in Wisconsin history, reflected on the bipartisan process, which resulted in the LWSRB legislation being signed. He remarked especially upon his sometimes contentious work relationship with Representative Black, who he said he has “great respect and liking for.”
“You can disagree as long as you’re not disagreeable.”Governor Tommy Thompson
“You can disagree as long as you’re not disagreeable,” Thompson said. “The way it used to be in state politics, once an election was over then you forgot about the political parties and worked on finding ways to conduct the people’s business.”
Black agreed, and remembered the extensive dialogues and listening sessions that helped leaders like him, Senator Shultz and Governor Thompson find the common ground necessary to achieve what is described as “the best river law in the nation.”
“In looking back, it’s not what we fought about, but what we accomplished together that is important,” Black said. “The LWSRB law is a living lesson to today’s politicians about how to get things done.”
Black told the crowd a story he had heard about an old man that was seen planting olive trees. A passerby stopped and said to the old man, “Those olive trees you’re planting won’t begin to bear fruit in your lifetime – why are you working so hard to plant them?”The old man replied, “all of my life I have been enjoying the fruit of olive trees that were planted by people that would never enjoy their fruit. Now, it is my turn to do for future generations what generations past did for me.”
Senator Dale Schultz was instrumental also in bringing the legislation creating the Riverway into existence. He told the crowd that “at first I was totally against it, and shared the resentment of my neighbors about people coming into our area and trying to tell us what we should do.” Schultz remembered all of the difficult conversations he had with politicians on the other side of the aisle, with local government officials, and with landowners and farmers in his district.
“The toughest thing in politics, I learned, was in admitting that you can’t have everything that you want,” Schultz said. “Working with local officials like Steve Wetter of Boscobel taught me that government works best when it is closest to the people – something I hope our state can rediscover soon.”Senator Dale Schultz
Schultz told the crowd at the celebration that the key ingredients in creating good legislation are wisdom, courage and vision.“I hope and pray that in the next 30 years, the residents of our state will be able to look back and see that the elected leaders in our state were able to continue to bring wisdom, courage and vision to their work on behalf of the citizens of the state,” Schultz said.
Former Wisconsin State Representative David Martin was also present to join in the celebration of the creation of the LWSRB. Martin, who served in the State Assembly in the 1960s and early 1970s came from the Fox River Valley and now lives in Muscoda. Today, he serves as president of the Three Eagle Foundation.
The Foundation was started when Muscoda-area landowner Frank Shadewald bequeathed the property known as ‘Frank’s Hill’ to the Foundation upon his untimely death in 2013. The property includes an effigy mound group and a group of small conical mounds, believed to be calendar mounds.
Participants at the 30-year anniversary celebration had to strain to hear Martin’s comments as he was recovering from laryngitis, but the effort was worth it to hear his pearls of wisdom.
“I want to impress upon the public in the State of Wisconsin that you can’t get anything done when you have divided government,” Martin said. “The government functioned very differently in the 1960s, and we could never accomplish in today’s political climate what we were able to accomplish back then.”
Wisconsin State Senator Jon Erpenbach was on hand to give Riverway Board Executive Director Mark Cupp a citation of commendation marking the 30-year anniversary of the LWSRB. As it turned out, this was also a celebration of 30 years of service to the board by Mark Cupp himself.
“The Lower Wisconsin Riverway is one of Wisconsin’s best assets,” Erpenbach said. “I want to offer up thanks to the legislators and Governor Thompson for the vision they displayed 30 years ago, and to Executive Director Mark Cupp for 30 years of tireless service.”
Cupp spoke about two legislators who he described as his “greatest mentors in the project to create and oversee the LWSRB” – Senators Dale Schulta and Richard Kreul.
“The three of us traveled around and talked with everyone who asked us to talk,” Cupp remembered. “We worked together tirelessly with the citizens advisory council, the landowners coalition, non-profit partners and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to make this happen, and we couldn’t have done it without those strong partnerships.”
Cupp said that over the years he has literally canoed every mile of the Riverway, and visited almost every bluff along its 92-mile course. He explained that his wife and children had had to “share him with the river.”
“I am so proud to be here today and to feel all the love in this room,” Cupp said. “This is important because we need a great deal more love and a lot less hate in this world.”
Governor Thompson was quick to give Cupp the credit he deserved for his tireless work on behalf of the LWSRB for the last 30 years.“After we signed the law, I made an appointment with Mark to discuss the executive director position,” Thompson said. “I told him that this is a very important job that will require patience, wisdom, leadership, courage, listening skills – and there is no better person than you for the job. I am proud of you as a person, as a leader, and as someone who has overseen the success of the best river law in the United States.”