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County Executive's Office

Dane County to Purchase 79 Acres of Property in Town of Middleton to Advance Wetland Restoration Efforts, Offer Flood Water Storage

January 16, 2020
Ariana Vruwink, 608-267-8823
County Executive

Purchase Will Expand Black Earth Creek Natural Resource Area, Create Public Recreation Opportunities

Today, County Executive Joe Parisi announced that Dane County will purchase approximately 79 acres of property in the Town of Middleton to expand the Black Earth Creek Natural Resource Area. The parcel is located next to Highway 14, and lies in the headwaters of Black Earth Creek—nationally known for its excellent trout fishing. The acquisition will advance wetland restoration efforts, offer flood water storage, and create public recreation opportunities. By saving this property from possibly being developed and restoring it to prairie, about 5.9 million gallons of water will be prevented from flowing downstream each year.

“Dane County is committed to restoring wetlands to benefit our environment and prevent water from funneling directly downstream after heavy rain events,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. “By purchasing this property, we will be able to improve water quality, offer floodwater storage, and preserve our outdoor spaces for future generations.”

In August of 2018, communities along Black Earth Creek experienced devastating losses due to heavy rains and flooding. This property is part of a designated FEMA flood storage area of approximately 40 acres. It contains a significant upland buffer that will be restored to native vegetation from conventional row crops, thereby protecting the integrity of the wetlands and reducing nutrient losses.

The property is a mix of cropland, wood, and grass covered hillsides and farmstead. It contains wetland and upland areas that support many high-quality habitats and rare plant communities.  Historically, the land was dry enough to crop. However, Dane County’s changing climate—consisting of warmer and wetter summers—has rendered approximately 20 acres of the southern half of the parcel too wet to plant. By making this purchase, Dane County will be able to restore the property to better serve as a natural filtration area for runoff, enhance the water quality of Black Earth Creek, and create more outdoor recreation opportunities.

Protection of the wetlands and associated upland is a critical component of flood mitigation. The protected lands will be managed to enhance wetland functions and improve ecosystem services. These wetland areas will continue to provide services such as reduce flood damage to downstream structures and crops, help control the rate and volume of runoff, and improve water quality by filtering sediments and nutrients. One of the first actions will be to remove man-made structures, such as an earthen berms, that are currently altering water flow and affecting wetland functions. 

The land is located within the former “Old Mud Lake,” which was a 140 acre wetland and premiere waterfowl area that served as a sediment filter to protect the water quality of Black Earth Creek before Highway 14 and its adjacent railroad were constructed. The parcel sits next to the Black Earth Creek Natural Resource Area, which consists of approximately 94 acres of property Dane County residents and visitors use to hike, fish, forage, and observe wildlife—among other activities.

The property is being purchased from Judith Hellenbrand and the Hellenbrand Family Trust for $4 million. Funds for the purchase are available in the Dane County Conservation Fund and Flood Risk Reduction Fund. County Executive Parisi signed Dane County’s 2020 budget last fall, which included $6 million for the Flood Risk Reduction Fund to help Dane County vie for public ownership of lands that can be converted back to prairies and wetlands for better stormwater runoff management that also improves water quality. The county will continue to assess this property to identify additional restoration actions and will work with local residents to address questions or concerns. 

A resolution approving the $4 million acquisition will be introduced at the County Board’s next meeting on January 23.