Land trust works to preserve Kinnickinnic as natural resource

Posted November 9, 2016

The Kinnickinnic River Land Trust celebrates 23 years of service to the community this season, and its executive director says it won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

Headquartered in River Falls, the land trust is a membership-based organization founded in 1993 as a reaction to the development boom that happened in the region in the 1980s and 1990s.

Community members wanted to protect the Kinnickinnic River watershed, so the land trust was incorporated, modeled after thousands of land trusts that already existed in the United States, said Dave Fodroczi, executive director of the land trust.

This is his “encore career,” as he called it, after a long career in the public sector working with land use issues. Fodroczi has been the executive director for five years.

“Folks were very concerned about the impact development might have on the Kinni, and weren’t confident that public regulations would do the whole job,” Fodroczi said. “So they got the idea as it’d been done in many, many other places, and worked with landowners and conservationists to preserve the land and watershed.”

The Kinnickinnic is a spring-fed, cold water ecosystem 22 miles in length. The headwaters are near Roberts, Wisconsin, and it flows into the St. Croix River. It is a Class 1 trout stream due to the very cold water, and there are many different geographies of the river. The beauty of the stream is what drives the land trust to keep working to protect it, Fodroczi said.

The main work of the land trust is partnering with landowners and conservationists to protect as much of the shore and watershed of the Kinnickinnic as possible. The land trust does this through acquiring land mostly through grants and some donations. Since 1993, the land trust has preserved more than 3,000 acres in the Kinnickinnic watershed. That’s over 10 miles of the Kinni river bank itself, about one quarter of the entire river bank.

“Our main work is working with property owners,” Fodroczi said. “We’re always looking for willing landowners who are interested in conserving their land one way or another. We can help. We’ve done a lot of technical assistance getting them plugged into funding and contractors for conservation. Everything from the shoreline to invasive species — we can refer them to organizations that can help them do what they want.”

Right now, Fodroczi and the land trust are focused on acquiring funds to buy up land surrounding a great wetland in the watershed, as well as continuing to communicate with landowners.

The land trust has also done significant work with the River Falls City Council around the issue of removing the hydroelectric dams that were first built in the mid-1800s. Fodroczi recently was appointed a member of the Kinni Corridor Planning Committee, which is working on a plan for the land surrounding the river if the dams are taken out.

“We would like to see the river restored through the removal of these dams,” Fodroczi said. “We’re engaging in the process, submitting comments all along the way. We’re excited how things have progressed. We’re pleased that the process has evolved the way it has, and that there will be an opportunity to study the issues carefully.”

He added, “I think the restoration of the river holds tremendous opportunity for the city environmentally, culturally, and economically. It would be a real renaissance for the river.”

Fodroczi said the land trust has also gotten much more involved with the community in recent years. He’s spoken at the middle school and the land trust hosts students at some of the sites to see what this “conservation” stuff is all about.

“There’s been a buzz among land trusts the past couple years about getting the greater community more engaged,” he said. “So I’ve worked with the middle school to do a service learning day with 50, 60, 70 kids at our preserve properties to work on invasive species, install bird houses, a lot of environmental education, and some real work.”

The land trust also has partnered with the Leadership River Falls program to teach about environmental stewardship, as well as with many other environmental organization throughout the region.

Fodroczi said that while he’s worked with land trusts all over the country, something feels particularly special about River Falls and its connection to this piece of nature.

“It’s been my experience that this river is at the heart of the community,” Fodroczi said. “When I ask the kids on service learning day if they’ve been in, on, or by the Kinni, each of them raise their hand. Everybody has been down there.

“As you get older, so many people have very strong, personal connections with the river,” Fodroczi said. “Whether it’s paddling, birding, or just peaceful reflection, being by the river is an enriching and healing experience. Most people you’d talk to would say they’re better, some days much better, for the time they’ve spent on this river. There’s a deep connection and romance between people and this river.”