Gift Benefits Ecology and Community
Donated Farm is Conservancy's Largest Ever Land Conservation Project
A family with historic roots in the state’s dairy industry has added a gift of Kickapoo Valley land to its Wisconsin legacy.
The Babson family, owners for many years of the Chicago-based Surge milking machine business that was part of the modernization of dairy farming, Wednesday donated to the Mississippi Valley Conservancy 1,129 acres on the Kickapoo River north of Viola in Vernon County. The property is known as Kings Point Farm.
Jean Babson said her late husband, James Babson, who served as president of Babson Brothers Company, bought farms in the area some 35 years ago and consolidated them into a grazing operation with as many as 1,000 head of beef cattle.
Jean said, "James Babson had vision, had a love of the land. The whole place meant a lot to him...not just the cattle, but being here. It’s such a beloved part of the country that meant so much to me and my husband, and it’s nice to know its going to be in good hands.”
Babson siblings Steve, of Detroit, and Cindy, who lives in Hawaii, who met with the conservancy's representatives earlier this year, also shared their memories of the land and family visits and expressed their desire that the property be protected. Other siblings are Nick, of Montana, who was company president when it was sold in 1999, Nina, who lives in New Zealand, and Henry, who operated the farm.
Jean has happy memories of the family and friends gathering at the cabin they built on a ridge high above the Kickapoo in 1971. The family will keep the cabin and some of the surrounding property. The Mississippi Valley Conservancy will help them place a conservation easement on the property they retain, according to the conservancy's executive director Tim Jacobson.
In addition to placing a conservation easement and invasive species control on the donated property, the conservancy will use prescribed burns to restore some of the rare native habitat, including oak savanna.
The Kings Point Farm Tract will be opened for public access as soon as the conservancy can place signs, mark property boundaries and create parking areas for public access.
The generosity of the land donation is not the first shown by the family. James and Jean were present in 1987 at the Merchant Marine Academy for the dedication of the Babson Center, named in recognition of Babson’s support of the Academy where he received his college degree and a commission in the U.S. Navy in 1944.
Jacobson said that the property is adjacent to the Tunnelville Cliffs State Natural Area already owned by the La Crosse-based land trust. “It is an astonishing gift that gives further protection to important ecological features and wildlife as well as increasing public access to this spectacular part of the Wisconsin landscape.”
George Kerckhove, president of the conservancy, said the Babsons' donation, appraised at $2.5 million, is the largest gift of land received by the conservancy since it was started in 1997. "I think I can speak for all the people of Wisconsin in expressing our gratitude to the Babsons for their splendid gift," Kerckhove said.
Photos courtesy of Mississippi Valley Conservancy