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(Photo courtesy of Rebecca Haefner)

By Rebecca Haefner, Foundation board member

Sometime in the late 1970’s while I was living in Missouri, two girlfriends and I struck out on an adventure to do a bike trip in Wisconsin on that trail we had read about in a bike magazine: The Elroy-Sparta Bike Trail, Wisconsin’s first rail-to-trail conversion,  which had opened in 1965. From there we planned to take back roads to Madison:  our destination. It was on the Elroy-Sparta Trail that I first fell in love with Wisconsin’s uncommonly beautiful natural environment. We marveled at the Norwalk tunnel, which is more than 3/4 of a mile on the trail, we camped at Devil’s Lake State Park, and we took the Merrimac Ferry over the Wisconsin River before we pushed on to Madison. I’ll never forget the azure blue sky with puffy white clouds, the clean fresh air, and the black and white Holsteins grazing in the green GREEN grass. Also the lush marshes, the abundant waterfowl, and all the natural lakes! It was Heaven!

Little did I realize that I would return to Wisconsin about 10 years later for training at the Medical College of Wisconsin. I left Wisconsin after my training to practice in Missouri and abroad, never expecting to return. But I DID return in another 10 years to finally make Wisconsin my home and raise my family. Something kept pulling me back. I’m sure it was Wisconsin’s natural beauty and diverse environments:  the Great Lakes, and Great Rivers, the inland lakes and marshes, the islands, the deeply dissected hills of the southwest, the prairies, the Northwoods, I could go on and on. Whether I’m in a state park or state natural area, fishing for steelhead and salmon with my daughter in Milwaukee (yes, Milwaukee),  or cross-country skiing in the Northwoods, the natural wonders of Wisconsin are all around us and I love it all.

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Rebecca enjoys a Foundation field trip. (Photo courtesy of Rebecca Haefner)

No matter what kind of outdoors enthusiast you are—a hiker or biker, a hunter or angler, a kayaker or birder, an ATV rider or skier—Wisconsin provides endless opportunities for each of us to connect with nature in a profound way. These experiences instill in us an appreciation for our state’s woods, wildlife and waters and a commitment to ensuring that the legacy of enjoying our natural areas continues for generations to come.

For the next few months, hunters and anglers renewing their licenses have a unique opportunity to help manage habitat in the places they most enjoy hunting or fishing. When they buy their hunting or fishing license, they’ll be asked whether they’d like to donate $2 to the Cherish Wisconsin Outdoors Fund—and if they cherish Wisconsin as much as I do, I hope their response will be “yes.” Likewise for campers making registrations through Reserve America—there will be an opportunity while checking out to make a donation.

The Cherish Wisconsin Outdoors Fund will help cover costs for critical habitat management throughout the state. Setting land aside so it won’t be developed is the first step in protecting it, but making sure those lands and waters stay healthy requires careful management, including controlled burns, invasive species control, trail maintenance and biodiversity projects. The Cherish Wisconsin Outdoors Fund is managed by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin to help forever care for places such as Wolf River Bottoms State Wildlife Area or Houghton Falls State Natural Area.

And if you aren’t a hunter, angler or camper, you can still make a difference by making a donation to the fund on http://CherishWisconsin.org/. We hope you’ll join us in celebrating this great opportunity to permanently care for the unique public lands we all love—and that brought me to this great state.