Sunday, February 17, 2013

Shenandoah and Kettle Moraine Diverge

by Drew Hanson

Envisioned to be roughly the same length and shape and created at almost the same time, Shenandoah National Park and the Kettle Moraine State Forest have different conservation legacies. Why?
Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park encompasses part of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. The National Park Service owns a continuous corridor of land for the park, stretched along a long and narrow ribbon of ridges. See a map of the park here. Significant to the question of this article, it includes a 101-mile segment of the Appalachian Trail.

Shenandoah was authorized by Congress in 1926 and fully established on December 26, 1935. Prior to being a park, much of the area was farmland. The State of Virginia acquired the land through eminent domain and then gave it to the Federal Government provided it would be designated a National Park.

Most of the people displaced for the park left their homes quietly. According to the Virginia Historical Society, eighty-five-year-old Hezekiah Lam explained, "I ain't so crazy about leavin' these hills but I never believed in bein' ag'in (against) the Government. I signed everythin' they asked me." (Source: Wikipedia) The lost communities and homes were a price paid for one of the jewels of our National Park System.
Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest

Near the end of the most recent Ice Age, a 100-mile long series of morainal ridges formed between two immense lobes of glacial ice in what is now southeast Wisconsin. Nineteenth century geologists named the belt the Kettle Moraine. Due to its rocky soils and steep slopes, the Kettle Moraine turned out to be ill-suited for farming. With flooding downstream becoming a problem, the Izaak Walton League purchased the first 800 acres in the Kettle Moraine in 1926. Eight years later the State Planning Board recommended the entire scenic belt of glacial ridges be purchased for a public conservation and recreation area. The Kettle Moraine State Forest was established in 1937 albeit in two separate, North and South purchase units.

Conservation leaders like Ray Zillmer kept up the drum beat of pressure to acquire the connecting corridor between the North and South units of the State Forest. In 1942, the Milwaukee Chapter of the Izaak Walton League adopted the report, “The Wisconsin Glacial Moraines”. A couple years later, the Wisconsin Division of the Izaak Walton League adopted a similar resolution.

In a July 1, 1948 letter to Oscar Rennebohm, Acting Governor of Wisconsin, Ray Zillmer introduced himself and the Kettle Moraine State Forest: “I have given a great deal of my time to the Kettle Moraine project. I have given 34 addresses to over 2,000 people, and I know how the people feel about it. I would like you to give consideration to extending the purchase area so that the northern and southern areas are connected to form a line 100 miles long. As far as the State of Wisconsin is concerned, this will be one of your most important acts. I consider my own efforts in the promotion of this project the most important contribution in my life.”

After receiving a response from the Acting Governor, two weeks later Zillmer replied: “Your letter shows that you have a very good knowledge of the Kettle Moraine project. Personally, I believe it will perform a greater service to the people of Wisconsin than any other projects which are more expensive. The war demonstrated that so many of our young men are not physically fit. We need more outdoor projects where we can retain health by normal exercise of the body. I believe it is urgent to extend the Kettle Moraine area at the very earliest opportunity. It will make possible the purchase of many tracts not now available. The connection of isolated tracts with larger areas will gradually take form.”

In spite of these and many other calls for the protection of the Kettle Moraine corridor, there were set-backs. Zillmer addressed one loss in a December 28, 1948 letter to Ernest Swift, Director of the Wisconsin Conservation Department. Regarding a Mr. Froedert, who sold his property to a developer for twice what the State was offering to include the property in the Kettle Moraine State Forest, Zillmer wrote, “I want you to know that I was utterly disgusted with Mr. Froedert; perhaps more sorry for him than anything else, because he has, in his struggle for wealth, lost all social values”. Lamenting the loss of enchanting Blue Spring on the property, he wrote, “In its original form, the Palmyra Blue Spring, was known in southeastern Wisconsin as one of the most unusual, natural phenomenon. It was a very active pool of a beautiful blue color and so active as to simulate the pools in Yellowstone National Park. It was a place which, in its original condition, could have been developed into a pilgrimage spot for nature lovers. This has been spoilt by the damming of the waters.”

Ten years later, Zillmer founded the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation (later re-named Ice Age Trail Alliance) to promote and assist in the creation of an Ice Age National Park.

Another fifty years later, there remains no 100-mile segments of the Ice Age Trail (none are even half that long) and the Kettle Moraine State Forest never became a continuous corridor of public land like Shenandoah National Park.

What happened? Why did the 100-mile continuous corridor of public land for Shenandoah National Park achieve success but the Kettle Moraine State Forest (and Ice Age Trail) did not? Did Mountain Majesty Bias have an effect? Is it because eminent domain was used to acquire the land at Shenandoah but in only rare instances for the Kettle Moraine State Forest? A friend said to me, "Maybe Virginians care more about their unique and beautiful landscapes than Wisconsinites?"

What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. This is a very interesting topic; one that will perplex all of us for years to come. We can only hope that one day these lands will be forever protected for the public good and that more areas like the Palmyra Blue Spring will not be destroyed because of a disregard for social values.