New outdoor heritage fund marks first of its kind for the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin

The LaBarbera-Vaughn Outdoor Heritage Fund will support outdoor sports education, outreach and conservation

Molly Sue Rollins and her dad, Brett Rollins, at Long Lake, near Campbellsport, Wisconsin, in the Northern Kettle Moraine. (Photo by Gina Rollins)

The Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin today announced the creation of the LaBarbera-Vaughn Outdoor Heritage Fund, which is the first of the Foundation’s funds to support outdoor sporting education specifically. Foundation board treasurer Mark LaBarbera and his wife Coni Vaughn LaBarbera created the fund as a way to give back to the state’s natural resources and future generations.

“Hunters and anglers have to be close to nature in order to have success afield,” said LaBarbera, whose own connection to nature came from spending time hunting and fishing with his mother and father, Betty and Joe LaBarbera, of West Allis. “Because of that connection, they have a deep appreciation for the environment and want to help care for our natural resources. If we can connect more people to nature, there will be more environmentally literate citizens and future stewards for conservation to replace each passing generation.”

Coni LaBarbera learned to hunt from her Uncle Keith Pickel in southwest Wisconsin, where she taught middle school. She has gone on to hunt and fish in a number of states, and has trained teachers from across the United States at the American Wilderness Leadership School  in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where she specialized in National Archery in the Schools certification.

Mark and Coni LaBarbera

Mark and Coni LaBarbera

The LaBarberas established the endowment to:

-Increase the public’s understanding, appreciation and sense of stewardship for natural resources, America’s outdoor heritage, and professional resource management, including related activities such as fishing, hunting and other shooting sports in Wisconsin;

-Increase wild elk, deer, turkey, and game bird populations in Wisconsin;

-Help the MacKenzie Environmental Education Center in Poynette, Wisconsin, with outdoor education and skills training programs or interpretive signage;

-Enhance youth and adult outdoor sports education efforts in Wisconsin, including especially, but not limited to, National Archery in the Schools and Explore Bowhunting Programs, youth fishing, firearms safety and hunter skills training, and promoting ATV and snowmobile safety training;

-Improve signage at Hardscrabble Prairie State Natural Area in Lafayette County, Wisconsin;

-Help secondary education institutions in Wisconsin provide scholarships for student’s natural resource education, or help secondary institutions outside of Wisconsin provide scholarships for Wisconsin-based students’ natural resource education;

-Support production and airing of natural resources programming on public radio and public television in Wisconsin.

The fund will not be used for anything that benefits anti-hunting efforts, hinders access to public lands and waters, or limits shooting sports opportunities for youth or adults.

Mark and Coni LaBarbera on the Mississippi River.

Mark and Coni LaBarbera on the Mississippi River.

“Thanks to Mark and Coni, we look forward to supporting one of the key groups within Wisconsin’s conservation community—hunters and anglers of all ages,” said Ruth Oppedahl, executive director of the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin. “This new endowment fund aligns with our public land management support for improving habitat that game species and other wildlife need to survive. It also provides educational opportunities for youth to learn how to hunt and fish.”

LaBarbera used highly appreciated stock from his former employer to establish the fund. The donation marks the largest single gift for an endowment fund with the Foundation from a current board member. With this gift and other funds established in 2015, the Foundation’s Wisconsin Conservation Endowment is now valued at more than $5 million.

“Anyone who cares about conservation and our outdoor heritage can pitch in by donating to this fund or starting their own,” LaBarbera said. “Just call Camille or Ruth at the Natural Resources Foundation. It’s a chance to share what we cherish with the next generation of hunters, anglers and conservationists.”

To contribute to the LaBarbera-Vaughn Outdoor Heritage Fund, or to start your own fund, contact Camille Zanoni, the Foundation’s development director, at 608-264-8922.

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The Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin provides sustainable funding for Wisconsin’s most imperiled species and public lands, while helping citizens connect with our state’s unique natural places. Learn more at

Lindsay Renick Mayer
Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin
[email protected]
608-266-3138 (office)
202-422-4671 (cell)