Across the street from the rapid development in the village’s Bergamont area, two homeowners are envisioning a different future for their land.
It has been clear for years Patrick and Patricia Hermsen both have a passion for the environment, as evidenced through how much work the couple has poured into their 59 acres.
Since taking ownership of the land in 1984, they’ve planted 9,000 trees and have lost count, Patricia said, of all the native grasses and flowers they’ve planted. Plus, Patrick raises bees as a hobby.
And while most of the property consists of various species of trees, the couple is also restoring a 22-acre patch of prairie just a short stroll away from their log home.
Now, they have help protecting and preserving the land, having signed an agreement on Dec. 11 with the Groundswell Conservancy, a 35-year-old nonprofit organization that had been known before 2018 as the Natural Heritage Land Trust.
The conservation easement means the Hermsens will continue to own the land, but any development would be restricted to “park and nature-based recreation,” explained Jim Welsh, executive director of Groundswell Conservancy. Whenever the Hermsens leave the land, their property will be donated to the Village and Town of Oregon as a conservation park for the public to enjoy, Patrick said.
The next step in that process is to sign a reserved life estate, which he said will make the entire project official. That isn’t going to happen for a while yet, Patricia said.
The two approached the village and town about preserving the land in 2015, calling it a “no-brainer” since the village is expanding toward their Netherwood Road property. That’s when they started working with Groundswell Conservancy to secure the easement.
“We wanted to donate the land so other people could benefit from what is here, and Patrick has a huge love of trees and conservation,” Patricia said, gesturing to her husband. “He wanted to pass it on the the next generation.”
The couple previously had hired a private forester through the Wisconsin Managed Forest Law program, which incentivizes sustainable woodlands on private property through the Department of Natural Resources, Patrick told the Observer.
The forester, through a step-by-step plan, advised the couple about which trees to keep as native species on their property and which invasive species to remove, something they also do for their patch of prairie. They weed, cut trees down or carry out a prescribed burn before vegetation grows in early spring, as invasive grasses and flowers tend to grow before the natives, Patrick said.
So far, the couple has planted grasses like Canada wildrye, little and big bluestem, sideoats grama and Indian grass on the prairie and other vegetation like common milkweed, white prairie clover, bergamont, black-eyed Susan, stiff goldenrod, New England aster and showy goldenrod – all native Wisconsin plants.
In the forested areas, the couple is ridding their property of invasive elm trees and replacing them with native oak and hickory. Some native conifers like pine trees also inhabit the area. Patricia also reported deer, chipmunks, rabbits, squirrels and different species of bird call their land home.
“There’s just no place for animals or insects to go anymore,” she said. “There’s just no safe haven for them.” To Patricia and her husband, she said, taking care of their 59 acres is how they can do their part to preserve the environment.
“Our world is a natural space,” Patrick added. “We only have one.”