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Co. Exec. Falk Marks Progress of Conservation Fund by Announcing Largest Purchase; Land in Town of Middleton

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Sharyn Wissniewski, 267-8823

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 8/25/2004

Issued By: County Executive
View only releases from County Executive
Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk today marked the halfway point of the 10-year commitment to the Dane County Conservation Fund by announcing the program’s largest prospective purchase to date.

“Dane County citizens are seeing the legacy they are creating by their decision five years ago to preserve special land in the county,” said Falk. “This purchase meets all the goals of the new Conservation Fund—protecting great natural resources, such as oak woods, wetlands and Black Earth Creek. It provides wonderful opportunities for outdoor recreation and saves some of the most scenic areas along Hwy.14,” said Falk.

The Conservation Fund was greatly expanded by Falk following a successful 1999 advisory referendum in which over 75% of county residents voted in favor of spending $30 million over 10 years to buy lands for parks and open space.

The new project protects just under 300 acres west of Middleton, along Highway 14, in the Town of Middleton. The land was being actively marketed for commercial and residential development.

The land lies in the Black Earth Creek Resource Area in a critical portion of the watershed that is under extreme development pressure. Lands within the Resource Area boundary include wetlands, riparian stream corridors, prime farmland, natural areas, wooded steep slopes that provide important groundwater recharge and water quality functions, as well as natural ridgelines that define the area and provide a dramatic scenic backdrop.

This unique property exhibits all of these features while providing the opportunity for recreational activities that are easily accessed by a large percentage of Dane County residents. The property runs along Hwy.14, creating aesthetic viewsheds from the highway corridor while also separating the City of Middleton from the rural countryside further west.

“In this project, Dane County cooperated with a potential developer of the property to instead set it aside for preservation. We’ll pursue important partnerships with the Town of Middleton, the State of Wisconsin along with the Natural Heritage Land Trust and other non-profit organizations in order to give the property the best care and management that is possible.”

The property is zoned C-2, Commercial and A-1, Agriculture and could be developed for residential and commercial purposes.

The children of Randall Swanson, an innovative and entrepreneurial farmer, currently own the property known as the Sunnyside Seed Farm, and had received several offers on the property, but gave Dane County first priority for a potential sale. Swanson, who died in 1998 at the age of 94, had joined the University of Wisconsin faculty as the first farm safety specialist in the country. Much of Swanson’s delight in operating Sunnyside Seed Farm came from inventing and adapting new and better ways of farming.

Additionally, the Soleil Development Corporation, which had previously optioned a large portion of the property, forfeited their contract in order to see the entire property preserved instead.

"I spent a great deal of time on the property while pursuing our purchase contract," says Soleil Development Corporation President Joseph Kuhn. “After several visits I realized that this was one property that I didn't want to see houses on, which was our original intent. The views from the property, which extend all the way to Blue Mounds, along with the serenity one feels when walking through its prairies, woods and fields, gave me a great deal of appreciation for its undeveloped state. I contacted the landowner and the County to express my intentions to relinquish my contract and to see the property preserved and am thrilled that we're standing here today.”

The County proposes to purchase the property in two phases in order to raise funds for the project costs. The County plans to partner with the Natural Heritage Land Trust, a local land trust that works to conserve natural areas, agricultural lands, and open spaces in Dane County and the surrounding areas, to apply for State Stewardship dollars and to raise awareness of the project. The first phase contains approximately 73 acres and calls for a purchase price of $1,765,000 with a closing to occur by year-end. The second phase contains approximately 221 acres and calls for a maximum purchase price of $3,535,000 with a closing to occur by September of 2005. Both phases will require County Board approval.

Appraisals completed on the property ran as high as $35,000/acre for the C-2 zoned property and $32,000/acre for the A-1 zoned property. The county has negotiated a purchase price of $25,000/acre for the C-2 zoned property and an average of $16,855/acre for the A-1 zoned property.

This year marks the halfway point of the New Conservation Fund, which has flourished since the referendum was passed in April of 1999.

This commitment aimed to protect the estimated 9,000 acres of land that were identified in the 1996-2000 Dane County Parks & Open Space Plan. These 9,000 acres are in addition to the 5,780 acres that Dane County owned for parks and open space at the time the referendum passed.

“In these first five years we’ve protected a total of 4,491 acres, keeping us right on track for meeting our goal of 9,000 acres for the New Conservation Fund,” said Falk.

This figure includes 2,993 acres protected directly through county acquisitions in addition to 1,498 acres protected through the Conservation Fund Grant Program. The Grant Program provides funding assistance to local units of government and non-profit organizations to buy lands identified in the Dane County Parks & Open Space Plan.

Dane County has had 18 partners under the grant program. Better yet, the County has succeeded in purchasing properties at an average net cost of 48% of the fair market value. This low percentage is attributed to bargain sales and donations from landowners along with state and federal grant funds that offset the purchase price.

The net cost to the County for the grant projects averages out to 30% of total project costs, with the County gaining a permanent interest in the grant properties in order to ensure its protection.

Anyone interested in a possible sale or donation of land to Dane County or for more information on the Conservation Fund Grant Program can contact Laura Guyer with Dane County Parks at 246-7968 or guyer@co.dane.wi.us.

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Attachment: Sunnyside Seed Farm History


SUNNYSIDE SEED FARM HISTORY

The children of Randall Swanson, an innovative and entrepreneurial farmer, currently own the property known as the Sunnyside Seed Farm. In 1943 and then in 1945, Randall purchased two adjacent farms for a total of 520 acres. 200 acres were sold in 1950 to become the Summer’s Tree Farm, still in existence today. Randall retained the rest of the acreage for his own farm, which historically had been in dairy. The property’s dairy past is evidenced by a cattle pass that runs under Highway 14, connecting the north and south sections of the property.

Much of Randall’s delight in operating Sunnyside Seed Farm came from inventing and adapting new and better ways of farming. After graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1928, Randall worked as a teacher and agricultural school principal and county agent in the Appleton and Milwaukee areas. He joined the University of Wisconsin faculty as the first farm safety specialist in the country. He eventually founded the National Institute of Farm Safety, an organization of farm safety specialists. He served on the National Safety Council where he was one of the principle developers of the distinctive slow-moving vehicle orange triangle now required on farm and other equipment moving slowly on highway right-of-ways. He worked extensively with Future Farmers of America and 4H groups.

At his Sunnyside Seed Farm, Randall modified an old Ford tractor for wheel track planting. He constructed a large, portable sawmill that was towed behind a heavy, four-wheel-drive truck on which was mounted a huge engine to power the sawmill. He employed an operator to drive this sawmill around southern Wisconsin to custom-mill lumber on the farms where it had been cut. One of his customers was Frank Lloyd Wright who he painfully discovered was not very easy to collect from.

Randall constructed an elaborate setup of two dozen large, steel grain storage bins located above a concrete tunnel allowing him to blow super-heated air through this tunnel and up through the screened false bottoms of the bins for the drying and storage of corn. On the Sunnyside Seed Farm he also operated another portable business in the form of a large, truck-mounted corn sheller that he would send around to farms. He operated a Homelite chain saw sales and repair business from the farm as another sideline and expanded this into sales of garden tractors, snowmobiles, and other small mechanized machines.

As he grew older, Randall used a golf cart to tour around the farm, often driving through rough areas of woods and hills over which one would not expect a golf cart to be able to travel. He continued to snowmobile and hunt on his farm until well into his 90s and died at age 94 in 1998.

Since Randall’s passing, his three children (Neil Swanson, Kenneth Swanson and Karen Bolles) have owned and operated the farm, mainly leasing sections to local farmers. They are delighted to be working with Dane County and look forward to seeing the property used by the public.
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