By Barb Howell | Photography by Kelley Brady and Holly Leitner
As March turns to April and springtime begins to take hold, the sights and sounds of nature’s awakening are palatable. It’s especially evident in the heart of Williams Bay, where a magnificent tract of land is emerging from winter’s slumber. Its stands of trees, marsh-filled bogs and open prairies might be overlooked by some, but those with a keen eye who understand its proximity to Geneva Lake know its natural beauty could have been drastically altered or lost for good.
Years ago, developers had their sights on this open space and if not for the persistence of community members, this 231-acre jewel, today known as Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy, might have become home to hotels and shopping centers instead of native plants and wildlife.
In 1989, after two years of negotiations between a developer and the Village Board, a large group of local residents insisted the Board stop any project proposed for the land. The Board acted decisively and purchased the property, knowing this was the only way to have complete control over preserving it. In July 1990, it was formally dedicated as a protected nature conservancy “Dedicated to the Children of Tomorrow.”
The name Kishwauketoe is a nod to the land’s close ties to Native American history and the Potawatomi people who once inhabited the area. Loosely translated as “clear water” or “lake of the sparkling water,” the moniker Kishwauketoe is perfectly in tune with the beauty of Geneva Lake and the property’s rare and evolving ecological system.
Kishwauketoe’s mission set forth over 30 years ago — to protect the land for generations to come — is still its driving force. All of the work of restoring and maintaining the nature conservancy has always been accomplished by dedicated volunteers as well as paid staff and college interns whose salaries are funded by generous donations to Friends of Kishwauketoe. For three decades no tax dollars have been allocated for the conservancy’s many projects. Community members have embraced the conservancy and their involvement is a perfect example of what’s possible when people come together for a common goal. Whether it’s planting hundreds of trees, clearing and maintaining miles of trails or removing invasive weed species in order to allow the growth of native flowers, those dedicated to this land have stepped up to the challenge. Their over-reaching mission, however, is one not to be forgotten: To help ensure the waters of Geneva Lake remain clean and clear for future generations.