Wisconsin’s Coon Creek Watershed Project Celebrates 90 Year Anniversary

By Beth Mason, NACD North Central Region Representative

For the average person, the significance of Coon Valley might be lost, but on September 9, 2023, a national, regional, state, and local contingency gathered in southwest Wisconsin to remind us and celebrate the event that started a conservation movement.

In 1933, the country was in the midst of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, and there was no infrastructure to deliver conservation funding and a conservation workforce on a national scale. The timing was right for the Soil Erosion Service (which became the Soil Conservation Service, and then became the Natural Resource Conservation Service) to become the federal agency, under the leadership of Hugh Hammond Bennett, to help manage the national crisis of soil erosion. With President Roosevelt’s creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that same year, a conservation workforce was also established.

The Coon Creek Watershed Project was the first national demonstration project which expanded on Wisconsin’s existing conservation research and work in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. After 90 years, this area remains a monument to a time and a movement when soil and water conservation became a national priority.

The anniversary celebration held on September 9, started off with a historical Coon Creek Watershed bus tour which showcased the 1936 dam and the original earthen terraces—both constructed by the CCC—a PL566 dam, and the Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center. The celebration then moved to an evening program featuring representatives from NRCS, NACD, Wisconsin Land and Water, the National Association of State Conservation Agencies, the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and federal, state, and local government partners.

NACD Second Vice President Bill Simshauser gave remarks which reflected on the project and the birth of conservation as we know it today. Ending the day of celebration, the evening also included dinner, live music, and networking.

Pictured above: NACD Second Vice President Bill Simshauser (second from the left), Wisconsin NACD Board Member Monte Osterman (fourth from the left), Iowa NACD Board Member Jeri Thornsberry (right of the sign), and Wisconsin NACD Board Member Bob Micheel (back row, right of the sign)

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