Madison Hunters and outdoor enthusiasts will have a new place to
hunt and enjoy wildlife in a couple of years, thanks to an effort
spearheaded by the Madison Audubon Society (MAS).
MAS, other conservation groups and the Knowles-Nelson
Stewardship fund bought the Zeloski Marsh in eastern Jefferson
County. The 1,496-acre muck farm was purchased by MAS for about $1
million, with the intent that it will later be donated to the DNR
as part of the Lake Mills State Wildlife Area. It will be available
for bird watching, wildlife education, nature study, cross-country
skiing, and hunting.
Charlie Kilian, DNR wildlife biologist in Jefferson County, said
the new land should be great addition to the Lake Mills Wildlife
“It will primarily be managed as a wet grassland which should be
nice for waterfowl and pheasant production,” he said.
“This purchase is important because it is a huge parcel located
in a rapidly developing area,” said Marsha Cannon, MAS grants
administrator. “This will be preserved for wildlife while offering
walk-in public access.”
The purchase includes 1,300 acres of farmed wetlands, 60 acres
of farmed uplands, 70 acres of wetlands, a small oak island, gravel
pit, ditches, and roads.
This is the largest ever land transaction for MAS, which also
bought 527 acres at Goose Pond Sanctuary near Arlington, 60 acres
at Schoeneberg Marsh north of Arlington, 80 acres at Otsego Marsh
near Rio, and 265 acres at Fayville Grove Sanctuary near Lake
The southern end of the property includes the Hope Lake Bog, 35
acres of tamarack swamp and oak woods. MAS will keep that land
separate and hopes to enroll it in the State Natural Area
The goal is to restore the wetland to provide habitat
(waterfowl, marsh birds and grassland birds), restore natural
plant/animal communities, and provide low-impact recreational
The past owner, Dennis Zeloski of Lake Mills, used the land to
produce crops such as mint, potatoes, carrots and corn. The land
has drainage ditches, dikes, dams, pumps and field tiles to allow
Now many of the ditches will be filled, and tiles broken, to
restore native vegetation and revert to what the land was like in
the 1940s: a mosaic of sedge meadow, tamarack swamp and shallow
The project is a partnership of MAS, DNR, USDA Natural Resources
Conservation Service, and Zeloski. Groups such as Ducks Unlimited,
Pheasants Forever and the Wisconsin Waterfowl Association may be
involved in the future.
The NRCS used its Wetland Reserve Program to buy a 30-year
easement on 1,390 acres, and MAS used stewardship funds to buy the
land and will plant prairie vegetation to promote nesting
“Restoring this wetland habitat will provide a large benefit to
a lot of bird species,” said Cannon.
Bisecting the land is the Glacial Drumlin State Trail, which
occasionally had to be closed in the past when herbicides were
being sprayed to control weeds.
Zeloski, who has raised crops on the land since 1947, said he
sold the land because he would like to retire and enjoy hunting the
area with his relatives. Zeloski has found that increasing
urbanization has taken some of the enjoyment out of farming.
“We sometimes got complaints from new homeowners about trucks
hauling equipment or planes spraying,” Zeloski said.
The property will be farmed this year and then closed to the
public until the wetlands are restored.
Kilian said that the area could result in 300 to 400 acres of
open water for waterfowl and shorebird usage. He hopes the area
will be open for public use by the fall of 2006.
NRCS and MAS are anxious to begin restoring the wetland.
Alice Klink, biologist with NRCS in Jefferson, said that the
program is voluntary and targets former or degraded wetlands. NRCS
buys an easement and will then restore the wetlands.
“This offers landowners the opportunity to retire marginal
cropland. In return the easement pays the landowner the difference
between the agricultural value and market value,” Klink said.
The landowner still owns the land but can not farm the land.
The Wetland Reserve Program is established by the Farm Bill,
which was reauthorized in 2002 but must be funded annually by
Congress. Land in all Wisconsin counties is eligible, as long as
the land is former wetland and the parcel is 20 acres or larger. A
total of 30,000 acres have been enrolled in the state.
NRCS worked on a similar arrangement with Zeloski and Pheasants
Forever on another large parcel of land near Fort Atkinson in 2002.
NRCS intends to work on that 2,740 acres this summer.
For information, call the NRCS conservationist in your county,
or for the name and number call the NRCS office in Madison at (608)
662-4422, ext. 254.