Aerial photo of Waubesa Wetlands. Courtesy of Ben Albert.
A new film about a hidden gem
Waubesa Wetlands: An Invitation to Wonder will tell the story of a hidden wetland left undeveloped by humans, a scientist dedicated to preserving it, and his grandson: a 20-year-old documentary filmmaker.
Filmmaker Ben Albert grew up exploring Waubesa Wetlands almost every weekend with his grandparents. Ben’s grandfather, Calvin DeWitt, is an 87-year-old scientist and teacher, who has lived on the edge of the marsh for over 50 years.
Inspired by his childhood experiences, Ben came back to the wetlands in the spring of 2020. Unsure of what he would find, he set out into the marsh to explore its beauty and try to understand his grandfather’s deep relationship with it.
As one of the highest quality and most diverse wetlands in Wisconsin, Waubesa Wetlands is one of NRF’s priority conservation sites. We are proud to support the production of this film, which is currently underway.
Read on to learn more about the film and Ben’s experiences in the marsh.
The trailer for the film “An Invitation to Wonder: Waubesa Wetlands”
Meet the Filmmaker
NRF Communications Director Shelly Torkelson spoke with Ben about the film, which will release in the spring of 2024.
ST: Why did you make this film?
BA: A major goal of this film is to build a greater understanding and appreciation of wetlands. With 50% already gone in Wisconsin, it seems like we are destroying wetlands without an understanding of what is being lost. I wanted to focus on a positive story that genuinely portrays the wonder, mysteries, and value of these environments.
Guided by the wisdom of his grandfather, Ben Albert journeyed through the mysterious world of Waubesa Wetlands, filming along the way. Photo courtesy of Ben Albert
ST: What’s it like to be filming out there in the wetlands?
BA: At first, it can be an extremely harsh, challenging place to be in, especially with camera equipment. Everything’s getting wet, everything’s getting dirty. Hundreds of mosquitos swarmed me and I was sinking waist-deep into the peat. You can completely forget that you’re surrounded by the urban and agricultural setting of Madison and get lost in this wilderness.
Near the end of filming, I started to feel very small in comparison to the marsh. I was a guest, entering this incredibly old, complex, and beautiful system.
Waubesa Wetlands is home to a vast variety of wildlife, including this painted turtle. Photo by Ben Albert.
ST: What does Waubesa Wetlands mean to you, personally?
BA: Waubesa Wetlands is deeply connected to my childhood. My grandparents would take me out canoeing and fishing for little insects in the creeks almost every Friday. That really sparked my love for nature.
As an adult, I’m realizing that there aren’t many places left like this. Waubesa Wetlands highlights the immense life and beauty that is preserved when local communities come together to protect these special areas. For me, it has become a symbol of hope for the future of our natural spaces across the state.
ST: Tell us about your grandfather.
BA: My grandpa, Cal DeWitt, is a huge inspiration to me. Even at the age of 87, he’s never lost his childlike wonder and curiosity for the world. He’s lived on the edge of Waubesa Wetlands for over 50 years and has dedicated much of his life to discovering what’s in his backyard. Cal worked with his neighbors to establish the marsh into a 1000-acre nature preserve. He later used the wetland as an outdoor classroom to teach hundreds of UW-Madison graduate students. My grandfather often refers to the marsh as a hidden gem.
Cal DeWitt has lived next to, studied, and protected Waubesa Wetlands for over 50 years. Photo by Ben Albert.
ST: What do you want the film to accomplish?
BA: I want people to know that if you want to be awed by the natural world, you must only go as far as your own backyard.
I hope this film inspires people to discover what’s all around them, whether it’s a wetland, a park, or out their own backdoor. And I hope they ask themselves, “What areas still need protection? What can I do here at the local level?”
We are surrounded by the hidden wonders of the natural world if we only take a closer look.
Ben and Cal canoeing through Waubesa Wetlands. Photo by Ben Albert.
About Waubesa Wetlands
Only twenty minutes from the heart of Madison, Waubesa Wetlands is the centerpiece of the film and is one of NRF’s priority conservation sites. It is a thriving ecosystem, with an abundance of wildlife and clean water. The Wisconsin Wetlands Association lists Waubesa as one of Wisconsin’s Wetland Gems® and it is one of the healthiest and most diverse wetlands in southwest Wisconsin.
NRF is proud to provide financial support for this film and other conservation efforts at Waubesa Wetlands and hope it will inspire future wetland conservation efforts in Wisconsin.
Waubesa Wetlands is just a short drive from Madison, WI but feels like another world. Photo by Ben Albert.
The first public screening of An Invitation to Wonder: Waubesa Wetlands is expected in the spring of 2024 here in Madison, WI. To learn more about the film and stay updated on screening dates and more, visit the project website.
I want people to know that if you want to be awed by the natural world, you must only go as far as your own backyard.