Tucked away down an unpaved road in the northwest region of Green Lake County is a special place with towering white pines and deciduous hardwoods that overlook the Upper Fox River Valley. Deer, coyote, fisher, frogs, snakes, turtles, and even an occasional wandering black bear or bobcat find refuge in this wild place. Ravens nest here along with a variety of songbirds amid the maple, oak, and pine interspersed with openings and wet seepages supporting native plants and their pollinators.
“This is our reservation,” Ron Jones stated quietly, glancing at his wife and partner, Marcella Jones, who nodded agreement. This was the beginning for perpetual conservation of land that would become Wood-for-Wood (W4W) Conservancy. It’s a gripping and powerful land trust story imbued with a love of land, water, and devoted stewardship.
In June 2015, I received an email from Marcella stating that she and Ron possessed 40 acres of undeveloped land near White River Marsh. The couple expressed a strong desire to protect the property in its natural state. Ron is of Ho-Chunk descent and Marcella is of Choctaw descent. They live in Milwaukee, but utilize the 40 acres as recreational land for camping, hunting, foraging, and generally blending in with the natural area. I emailed her back, and we scheduled a date to walk the property and discuss options for protecting the land perpetually from development. That day we explored the Jones 40 acres was memorable. Ron walked us through a mature stand of mostly white pine. Elsewhere, he pointed out deer trails and a hunting stand.
Marcella led us to shallow seepage pools teaming with aquatic life and bordered by wetland vegetation. Further on, we viewed a heron rookery from afar. We discussed the land’s history, how they acquired it, and why and how they would like to protect their property. They shared their land story. It was as rich and intricate as the place where we stood.
This land is too magical to leave to the whims of man, so I began researching how the land could remain protected forever. I was looking for a boots-on-the-ground organization right where the land lives and breathes, and eventually contacted the Green Lake Conservancy (GLC).
Our place was an 1800s homestead once encompassing hundreds of acres that had been whittled down to 40 acres and eventually passed through inheritance to three children: my step-brother and two cousins. The two brothers who passed it on had used part of it to grow Christmas trees that were sold in town every year.
The moment Ron first set foot on the land he said, “This feels like home.” Over the years, we retreated there often. My relatives, not so much—except for hunting. Gradually, we bought 10 acres from each cousin and the final 20 acres from my brother.
Following two years of negotiations with the GLC, we gifted our property to them free and clear, accepting no tax break. By relinquishing that quid pro quo, we are now considered caretakers for life, and we continue our land stewardship work, most notably managing for ecologically invasive plants.
Following our formal conveyance to the GLC, we have enjoyed complete access to this magical place just as we have for the past 30 years and will do so until we both die. Like astronauts who can clearly see the forests of the Menominee Indian Reservation in northern Wisconsin from space, you can look down on W4W and observe that it, too, is a protected natural area. For us, it’s a sanctuary and a sacred land.
And the name for this conservancy land, Wood-for-Wood? For nearly 40 years, Ron has made a living for us by working with wood. He’s an established master luthier, building and repairing stringed instruments. In exchange for the sweat of working on guitars and mandolins, along with some guitars sold from Ron’s personal collection, the conservation of this mystical place will now be safeguarded long after we’re gone. We consider it an auspicious trade.
Since 1995, the GLC has offered science-based lake and watershed solutions that conserve land by acquisition, gift, and conservation easement. Marcella and Ron’s vision to protect their W4W gift forever ensures that the environmental and ecological well-being of this conservancy land will continue long into the future.
Marcella Jones is a freelance writer and certified Gonzovationist ( gonzovation.com ).
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 .