The real estate transfer was a historical event, although the moment was anticlimactic given the no-small-feat accomplished by generous donor pledges, a WDNR grant award, and an unwavering faith that common good would prevail. For the Green Lake Conservancy’s all-volunteer land trust, the transfer meant realizing its largest land acquisition to date, Tichora Conservancy, on July 10, 2018.
But what is known before then? How did the landscape appear prior to settlement? And who were the earlier people that inhabited the prairies, oak openings, and shorelands along Wisconsin’s deepest natural inland lake?
When the original land surveys were conducted circa 1830, most of the land bordering Green Lake did not appear as it does today. Far from it. It was oak opening, a transitional community between prairie and forest. Back then one would have witnessed scattered, open groves of randomly sprouted copses of young bur and black and white oak trees, “shock troop” oaks that managed to conquer the prairie fires and animal predation to appear park-like to the first Euro-Americans who settled here. And long before settlement, the Ho-Chunk tribe plied the local resources and made their living here.
The evidence is recorded in the original land surveyor field notes and anecdotes gleaned from journals and letters of intrepid pioneers and travelers. Early historian Donald McLoid observed, “There are beautiful prairies, oak openings, woodlands, lakes, abounding springs, clear swift streams, soil so fertile that you have but to turn it up to make it yield grain to any extent. This land can be purchased through the land office at Green Bay at $1.25 an acre.”
That’s why we came here.
Roughly 80 years following early settlement, beginning in 1920 to 1958, a property on Dickinson Bay off Green Lake’s south shore was operated as a Boy Scout camp, Camp Tichora. The camp was endowed with the Ho-Chunk word Ti-cho-ra, Tira meaning “lake” and cho meaning “green,” referring to Green Lake because of the distinctive emerald hue imbued in the water.
Then in 1959, Camp Tichora was acquired by the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago, with major funding provided by the Fred Grow family. Thereafter, Camp Grow became established as a ministries camp for young people, particularly urban youth, operating from 1959 to 2017. In short, the land called Tichora Conservancy has a protracted history of providing hundreds of visitor campers, Boy Scouts, and church camp youth a place to learn about nature and cultivate lifelong friendships and spiritual growth.
Partnering with the Green Lake Sanitary District, the Conservancy saw a fundraising campaign commenced in August 2017. By June 2018, approximately $2 million was pledged collectively by over 600 donors. In addition, a $1.7 million Wisconsin DNR Knowles-Nelson Stewardship grant was awarded to the Conservancy on June 19. The land, once called Camp Tichora then later Camp Grow, turned a new leaf: Tichora Conservancy.
Tichora Conservancy’s natural capital, 40 acres—800 feet of shore frontage on Green Lake and 1,200 feet bordering Spring Lake, is preserved in perpetuity accompanied by public access, lake protection amenities, and restored native habitat for future generations to contemplate and enjoy.
The takeaway? Collective action. Tichora Conservancy is testament that land, water, and people benefit when we are at our best—striving together for the common good.
Thomas L. Eddy is a founding member of the Green Lake Conservancy and serves as vice president for Conservation. To learn more about the work of the Conservancy, visit them at greenlakeconservancy.org .