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Strengthening the protection of a Black Earth Creek Farm


Natural Heritage Land Trust takes lead responsibility to ensure that a 116-acre farm in the Black Earth Creek Valley would be forever protected from development and always available for farming.  

Pam Allen’s 116-acre farm lies in Black Earth Creek Valley, a picturesque landscape that features stunningly scenic overlooks, meandering streams and some of the most fertile soil in Wisconsin. The valley also is home to its namesake Black Earth Creek, an angler’s paradise rated one of the 100 best trout streams in the U.S. Through its rich natural resources, Black Earth Creek Valley provides public access to fishing, recreational greenspace and scenic vistas; critical wildlife habitat; and prime farmland that helps the region maintain food independence.

As a high school ag teacher and farmer, Pam has long recognized the valley’s significant community benefits and sought to preserve them from encroaching urban development. That’s why she decided to enter into a conservation easement agreement in 2002, partnering with American Farmland Trust, Dane County and Wisconsin DNR. Not only does the agreement permanently protect her farm from development pressures, it also puts into place a succession plan for her family that will help prevent estate management conflicts. “I’ve seen so many families torn apart over disagreements on what to do with inherited land,” Allen says. “It’s sad, and preventable, with a little forethought and planning.”

A third benefit to easement agreements like Pam’s is financial compensation. Through Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) programs, qualified environmentally significant land can bring a one-time payout that the landowner may place into a trust or reinvest in current operations—providing yet another way conservation easements help ensure land is properly maintained and protected. “Even without development options, PDR land value still increases with the growing appreciation for high quality greenspace,” Pam notes. “Especially if it’s near a city.”

Farming as Usual

In the 14 years since entering her conservation easement agreement, Pam continues farming as usual. Her dairy herd has now transitioned into a beef steer raising operation, for more schedule flexibility, and she rents adjacent cropland from the family of the late Otto and Evelyn Festge. The Allen farm is part of the original Festge family homestead, purchased from the family in 1985. It lies directly south of Festge County Park, a 155-acre wooded parkland that Otto and Evelyn Festge donated to Dane County in 1963. Eighty more acres still held by Festge heirs are also preserved as a farmland conservation easement. Otto Festge served two terms as Mayor of the City of Madison, and was an early pioneer of stream bank restoration in the Black Earth Creek Valley.

Some of Pam’s farm goals for the future include exploring the production of ancient grain crops, expanding controlled grazing for targeted vegetation control, and keeping the farm self-sustaining so her grandchildren can continue to visit regularly to experience life on the farm. “I’m thinking ahead more than one generation,” Pam says optimistically. “Even if my family decides to not keep the farm once I’m gone, the land will still be protected for others to enjoy…maybe even turned into a public park.”

American Farmland Trust to Natural Heritage Land Trust

After many years of successful involvement with Allen’s easement, and others across the state, American Farmland Trust determined it was necessary to divest its presence in Wisconsin in order to focus its limited resources in other areas. Its role as land trust partner in Pam’s easement agreement had to be handed over to a trusted local land trust with a successful track record. The search was short. Natural Heritage Land Trust fit the requirements in every way. Black Earth Creek Valley is in the heart of Natural Heritage Land Trust’s priority area, they operate a very active monitoring program, and have worked extensively with surrounding landowners so are familiar with and sensitive to their concerns, priorities and history. The land trust partner transition was completed in February, 2017.

Since 2001, Natural Heritage Land Trust has protected more than 1,124 acres in the Black Earth Creek Valley through the purchase of land and conservation easements. Being chosen to assume the new role of land trust partner in the Allen Easement reinforces Natural Heritage Land Trust’s well-earned reputation as a highly effective and trusted conservation partner.

Learn more about Black Earth Creek Valley and how Natural Heritage Land Trust helps permanently protect land.  

Click here to listen to several different interviews with Pam as part of Voices of Rural Wisconsin. 

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