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Many get a special feeling when traveling north on Highways 41 and 144. It begins at the intersection of Cedar Creek Road and continues to Highway NN. Looking northeast, those entering the watershed area of Big Cedar Lake have enjoyed expansive views of the mid-kettle moraine for as long as any can remember. That’s because they see the Zuern Family Homestead – a very special property. On December 23, 2008, those views – and the feeling one gets when entering the gateway to Big Cedar Lake – were locked into perpetual preservation. Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation purchased the 108 acre Zuern Family Homestead. Those acres are contiguous to the equally special Henzelmann, Pabst, and Gruenke properties, which were previously preserved. Combined, 414 acres of mid-kettle moraine property will now remain natural woodlands, wetlands, and prairie.
Within the preserved land rests a cluster of kames formed by glacial movement which ended beworld. None of the land’s history or beauty escaped the sharp intellect of Teddy Zuern – the original owner of acreage adjacent to major thoroughfares. Uncle Teddy sold the property to nieces and nephews Don, Bob, Joe, Mary, and Judy, when his beloved wife, Beatrice, needed care.Sale of the land to the children of Louis (“Luddy”) Zuern – brother of Teddy and founder of Zuern Building Products, Inc. – was the first step toward lasting preservation. In 1990, Teddy explained that he wanted to sell before his death, which followed soon after. All of the Zuern siblings loved the land and as their family was in the building supply business, they entertained various possibilities for the acreage.
Always in the forefront of ideas, however, was their understanding of just how special the property and area remained, along with their collective will to keep the Zuern Family Homestead intact. “Down deep, our hope was to preserve the land. It was Mary who took the initiative to get us moving forward.” explained Don Zuern. “If you look at the land, it’s typical of the kind of person Teddy was. As a farmer, he worked around natural features of the land to preserve its beauty. In his day, most farmers worked instead to clear or level as much land as possible for farming.”
According to the Zuern brothers, now managing partners in the building supply company, Teddy was both a naturalist and a natural teacher. His house was filled with artifacts from arrowheads to Mastodon bones, and his head was filled with facts. Teddy could recite the history of everything. He had stamp, stone and all kinds of collections. He also kept abreast of all worldly events, Don, Bob and Joe Zuern chimed. Collector’s items were auctioned and funds went towards ongoing care for Beatrice, who today resides in a nearby nursing home. Teddy and Beatrice were equally frugal and content on the farm. Beatrice shared her husband’s love for nature, and further entertained the children by skillfully cooking every meal – especially holiday meals – on a wood-burning stove, which also served to heat the home. And, it wasn’t just fun stories, cool fossils and great food that the children enjoyed. They helped completed chores during each visit to the homestead. Most of the trees that can be seen from highways 144 and 41, were planted over a period of several years by the children. They also baled hay, tended crops, and helped make repairs. Geoff Maclay, President of the Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation, began talking with the Zuern family about preservation over 20 years ago. Charitable contributions raised by the Foundation under a long-term project entitled “Kettle Hills Nature Preserve,” made the organization’s eventual purchase of the Zuern Family Homestead possible.
Kettle Hills Nature Preserve remains an active project of the Foundation, consistent with the organization’s mission to promote preservation of natural areas. It benefits the public through the preservation of Wisconsin’s vanishing natural heritage, protection of wildlife corridors, water quality improvement, and farmland preservation. It further provides trails for hiking and cross-country skiing, and preservation of the views so many enjoy. Partnerships forged with state and federal land conservation programs, supported purchase of the Zuern Family Homestead. Private contributions of $1,092,500 were matched by grants which totaled $1,257,500. Agreements provide for the installation of storm water control to improve the water quality of Big Cedar Lake, an extension of the Ice Age Trail, and a long-term land management plan. Ownership will then transfer to Department of Natural Resources to manage the new mid-kettle moraine parkland which today marks tremendous progress toward shared long-term goals of connecting the northern and southern units of Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine and installing additions to the Ice Age Trail. Trail locations and land management for the expanse of congruent properties, each of which adhere to various covenants as conditions of sales to the Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation, will be outlined by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation, and the Foundation by 2010.
Stories written by Don Behm and published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on January 29 and 31, are linked to http://www.clcf.info, and provide more detail along with additional photos. To read the articles, click on “Invitation To Action,” and then visit “Press Room.”
Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation is grateful to the Zuern family for working to achieve preservation of their homestead, which will now only become more special to generations of visitors, and to the many contributors who made it possible.
A legacy of hard work
At the dawn of the greatest challenge ever to face the western world, Sigurd Rudorf and Dolores Duehning (affectionately known as “Sig” and “Sparky”) wed. It was 1940. As a young bride, Sparky was already accustomed to hard work. She was the oldest of 14 children and had grown up in Slinger during the Great Depression. “It wasn’t easy,” she recalled. “There was always at least one child that needed a diaper or something and as the oldest, I did a great deal of work.” Sig attended school in Slinger but had been raised near Big Cedar Lake. He grew up in the “Sunbeam” cottage ( a name given to the one-room kit by the dwelling’s manufacturer) on Boettcher Drive with his mother and father who were employed by August Tews. This was an unexpected but welcome opportunity for Sig’s parents. They had left Germany with their 10-year-old son in 1928 in search of a better life in the United States of America.
Heinz Rudorf, Sig’s father, was a character actor. Their first home in the new country was a temporary stay with relatives in Hoboken, New Jersey. Although his mother, Wilhemine Friedel (“Minny”), found steady work cleaning houses along the Hudson River, it was clear that this area would not be fruitful grounds in which to pursue an acting career. German-speaking character actors were not in very high demand during this country’s attempts to recover from the height of the Great Depression. Still, Minny understood instinctively that things would turn for the worse in Germany and that they should continue to make their lives here. News of thriving German language productions at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin inspired Minny to convince Heinz to move westward. Once in Milwaukee, even the Pabst Theater could not provide steady and reliable work. But August Tews, a patron of the theater, admired the ambitious couple. He offered both of them an opportunity to live in a cottage and work at his property on Big Cedar Lake. Once there, Heinz took care of the grounds while Minny attended to the housekeeping.
Learning a Love for the Land
Young Sig, although still struggling to learn English, set out to explore the boundless surrounding nature in his new environment. Sig always remained grateful to young men he met here for helping him to grasp his new language. He remembered watching George and Leonard Tews and marveling at the fact that they knew how to master any task. “Their short phrases and direct manner of speaking accelerated my ability to understand English,” Sig recalled.
Sig’s sharp mind recorded every detail of what he observed outdoors. He learned to look closely in order to understand nature from his father’s example. At the age of about 12 or 13, he observed the practices of farmers and was influenced by grown men who had set about forming the Sanitary District, the first of its kind in Wisconsin, and a precursor to what legislation later made possible, our current Lake Protection and Rehabilitation Districts.
These organizations, not unlike the Property Owners’ Association, were born out of interest and concern for the long-term health of this area’s lakes, streams and natural environment. Bentley Courtenay delivered the legal expertise necessary to form the District, which Sig eventually served as Chairman.
Much maligned farmers have always done much more for the land than what meets the eye. At that time, there were no government departments or agencies looking after the environment. Building was a “free-for-all” — there was little conscience exercised for the land by some of the farmers. One, for example, had a sluiceway pouring manure directly into the lake.
Farmers interested in what was good for the environment began to collaborate in order to promote good practices. Distinctions were easy to make because the work of farmers is interdependent — nobody could afford all of their machinery. This condition made it possible to judge character. It was evident which farmers practiced methods that were both effective and conscientious by witnessing the various results that were achieved.
The First Home
After Sig and Sparky wed, they joined Sig’s parents in the Sunbeam until 1942, when they acquired the home just across the road. Sig described the home’s condition at the time of purchase: “It had no water, no well, no electricity, no heat — it was hardly even a house — it was a perpendicular pile of firewood.”
Among the obstacles to comfortable living was an unplayable piano. It was trapped behind a door that prevented its removal. They chopped it up and sent it out to the yard. Sounds from the harp of the piano, portions of which had remained intact, surprised Sig and Sparky one evening when area squirrels decided there was music waiting to be played in the neglected instrument. Gusting winds and falling branches provided accompaniment to future performances.
Another project of considerable priority was the construction of an outhouse. Ingenuity made quick work of the billet when a crate used for shipping caskets was tipped on end to serve as the facility’s structure. Woven cane seating stripped from an odd kitchen chair proved intolerable during prolonged visits to the hasty improvement and was quickly replaced. The entire home was systematically rebuilt, complete with additions, according to Sig’s precise specifications.
Eventually, Sig and Sparky’s family became four. Paul was the firstborn, followed by Sylvia three years later. Sig’s intellect was put to service by the Allis Chalmers Corporation as an engineer. During the war, Sig recalled, life was difficult but many people worked willingly for little pay out of a sense of patriotism, which he both shared and admired.
When Fred Mackie left the Allis Chalmers Corporation to form the A.O. Smith Corporation, he took Sig was him as his Vice President of Manufacturing and Engineering. They became fast friends.
Around that time, Big Cedar Lake began facing one of its most serious threats. A rolling hillside farm just west of Highway 144, was being sought after by mining companies. Unless a competitive offer could be made, the eastern crest of the sub-continental divide would become a gaping gravel pit. Should this happen, the long esker that formed a natural protective frame for the watershed of Big Cedar Lake would become forever scarred.
Saving the Land
Sig’s mathematical mind took no time to calculate potential lasting consequences. He engaged in an effort to prolong any closing on the property for a mining operation by leading a group of property owners to demand a plan for restoring the hillside after gravel extraction. The length, size and position of the hill had already convinced Sig that an effective plan was impossible to develop.
“Once they dug into that hill, there would be no natural or logical place for them to stop digging,” he explained.
Although he had created a window of opportunity with a demand for restoration plans, as a young husband and father he was not able to make an offer to the current property owner, Arnold Schultz. Sig called on his friend, Fred Mackie, for help. Out of an act of friendship that is too often found only in historic accounts, Fred Mackie bought a farm that he didn’t need or want. Sig Rudorf, although not named in the chain of title, was offered a verbal right of first refusal.
Soon after, lingering stomach cancer began to take its toll on Mr. Mackie. Time was of the essence and once again a gravel mining company was preparing to make an offer on the property. Sig and Sparky bought the farm. It was 1962.
From that day forward, the Rudorf family spent nearly every ounce of energy and second of daylight creating a masterpiece nature preserve. Sparky removed granite rocks from fields and built graceful stone hedges. Sig marked his favorite points and established inviting trails. Paul, now almost 20, was an able and efficient farm machine operator, while Sylvia tended to lighter tasks. Geese once acted as watchdogs, reporting any unusual behavior to the Rudorf family, who continued to live within earshot on Boettcher Drive.
Sig remains a legend in the area for his tireless contributions to the community. Only Sparky could have kept up with his interests and intellect. And she did so with ease. In addition to planting trees and building hedges, she worked in tandem to build the shed, kept the home tidy and kept Sig well fed. Nearly every dog on the western shore of Big Cedar Lake was kept equally happy by Sparky. Fresh sausage slices were kept on hand for four-legged visitors who made sneaking off to the Rudorf home a regular morning beat.
Preservation of the property was the Rudorfs’ constant intention and their friendship with Geoff Maclay spanned most of their adult lives. Through Mr. Maclay, the Rudorfs became involved with the Cedar Lake Conservation Foundation and became convinced that care in perpetuity for their very special farm was the best form of permanent protection for the watershed. Two smaller parcels were first gifted to the Foundation by the Rudorfs: 3.5 acres in the late 1980s and 13 acres in 1994. In 1999, Sig and Sparky voluntarily removed a field from cultivation to allow the Washington County Land Conservation Department and Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation an opportunity to install storm water control basins that further protect Big Cedar Lake. Over time, and in a spirit of brotherhood as strong as Mr. Mackie’s, Sig and Sparky’s detailed intentions were carefully explained to their trusted friend, Mr. Maclay. On February 23, 2000, the Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation purchased the 80-acre parcel for $365,800. Every penny of the purchase price was raised from the contributions of private citizens who support the Foundation because they share the conviction of Sig and Sparky.
Today, wildflowers decorate paths that connect fields farmed by the neighboring Dornacher family. Thousands of trees that stood two foot tall when planted now thrive as majestic 100-foot pillars. Norway pines were the first planted. They were followed by just about every other conifer known to Wisconsin. Later, Maples and Ashes were added to the landscape.
Each trail is named for a family member and marked with wooden signs purchased at a Slinger Fair exhibit. Even the family dog is honored by “Beagle Boulevard.” Benches greet weary guests at scenic intervals. Views from this rescued hillside could replace many published texts describing the riches of Washington County. On a clear day, from the highest point of the property, the beauty of this region presents itself to visitors in a form that resembles a virtual map of the kettle moraine.
Sig was once quoted in an A.O. Smith Corporation newsletter as follows: “I want to see something besides ‘progress’ when I look out the window. I want to see trees on the hill — not some damned developer’s creation.” When pressed regarding a potential conflict regarding his then “future oriented job” (as a prodigious engineer) and “past oriented pursuits” (as a conservationist), he responded as follows:
“On the contrary, there is no conflict. Industry, in fact, has a history of inventing the same thing over and over again — and I think that knowing where you’ve been is a good indication of where you may be going in the future.”
Visitors to Rudorf Farm will always be thankful for the remarkable foresight of the remarkable team of Sig and Sparky Rudorf.
The creation of Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation was prompted in large part by a desire on the part of Foundation President and Founder Geoff Maclay and other area residents to preserve the pristine shoreline of Gilbert’s Lake. Maclay and others recognized the importance of protecting this vital waterway.
Acquisition of the Gilbert’s Lake property was the Foundation’s first project. Thanks to the group’s efforts, the lake continues to be home to a wide variety of rare flora and fauna, including the blue heron and the Blanding’s turtle.
In recent years, CLCF has helped fund a study of the Blanding’s turtle by reptile and amphibian expert Gary Casper. Other partners in the study were the Cedar Lakes Property Owners Association, the Zoological Society of Milwaukee County and Gathering Waters Conservancy in Madison. Casper has tracked breeding pairs and introduced baby turtles bred in captivity into the wild
Fox Hill came in for a coat of new colors in the 1940s. While the hotel served the war effort as an evacuation center, John Timmer, son of Mathias, together with the Milwaukee Ski Club, developed downhill runs on the drumlin’s steepest slopes. While some clearing was done to permit skiing and a post-war barrack was transplanted in 1949 to serve as the ski club’s warming lodge, these modest improvements paled in comparison to ambitious designs in the minds of commercial developers. In 1971, John Timmer sold those 18 acres to the Milwaukee Ski Club for private use by its members. Thus, the hill remained a natural treasure for all to continue admiring on scenic drives or walks along Highway NN or Hillside Road.
In the days of snow, Fox Hill became an excellent rope tow ski area for many legendary ski names in the community. Later, competing slopes boasting artificial snow and chair lifts threatened the future of both the ski club and Fox Hill. Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation secured both when it bought the development rights to the land in 1989. With the ski club still intact, Fox Hill became the cornerstone property of what would grow to become the Klingler Fox Hill Nature Conservancy.
Three years later, in December of 1992, a completely natural 40-acre parcel at the corner of Sleeping Dragon Road and Highway NN was purchased by the Foundation and added to the conservancy. This was quickly followed by the addition of 40 acres in 1993 when, with the Foundation’s promise that all natural areas would be preserved, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources awarded matching funds toward the purchase of the adjacent Moberly farm. Another 35 acres of the farm was purchased in 1994 under the same conditions.
With this acquisition, the conservancy was of substantial size. But the puzzle-like parcel was not complete until 1998 when Diane and Brian Glynn conveyed the final 10 acres of adjacent land through a charitable transfer to the Foundation. The Glynn property joined two larger sections and signaled the end of the Foundation’s 10-year effort of acquiring the land for this project.
The interest of Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation in all its projects is more than the acquisition of land. Each piece of the Foundation’s property requires special care. In fact, the very reason Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation acquires land, through gifts or purchase, is to ensure that our environmentally important areas receive the stewardship necessary to protect and preserve this beautiful and fragile watershed for future generations.
Within the Klingler Conservancy, for example is an old farm field that became overgrown with weeds. Today, a combination of experts and Foundation volunteers are engaged in the task of redressing that portion of Fox Hill in its debutante gown of wildflowers and prairie grass.
Foundation properties are limited to pedestrian traffic only. Visitors to these protected areas are asked to stay on trails so as not to disturb plants or wildlife.
Two very energetic groups of volunteers have made significant contributions in caring for the trails at Fox Hill:
Fox Hill Nordic
Today, cross-country ski enthusiasts can enjoy some of the best skiing in Wisconsin, thanks to Fox Hill Nordic Ski Club. Knowing of the Foundation’s wish to provide well-groomed trails at Fox Hill, this group undertook back-breaking labor of establishing five complete trails designed to accommodate skiers of all levels of expertise, from beginners to experts. Each trail is well marked and maps are posted at the trail heads. Perhaps the most satisfying to skiers is that not only does a day at Fox Hill guarantee fantastic scenery but also that the trails are groomed regularly and expertly with the use of state-of-the-art equipment!
Those wishing to enjoy the ski trails need only join Fox Hill Nordic. Membership fees help cover the cost of trail maintenance. From the first snow of the season, Milwaukee Ski Club’s lodge is open to Fox Hill Nordic skiers on Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. The trails are open every day! Visitors to Fox Hill are asked to park at either the ski lodge or at Klingler Memorial Rock (both accessed from Highway NN).
Boy Scouts of America
The second group of volunteers was an energetic group of local Boy Scouts. In August of 1998, Scott Herdeman, a Life Scout working toward the rank of Eagle Scout, led West Bend’s Troop 762 in building an impressive footbridge to help visitors cross a stream by either foot or ski.
A Very Special Gift
Charles Klingler became a sailing enthusiast while enjoying boyhood summers from the shores of Big Cedar Lake. As an adult, Charles Klingler always appreciated areas that had remained natural as he remembered them from his youth. He was Commodore of the Cedar Lake Yacht Club in 1926. While he enjoyed sailing Class “C” sloops, his favorite was the Class “E” and in a letter to skippers dated October 14, 1926, he announced his initiative to bring the 28-foot crafts to Big Cedar Lake. In 1994, his generous widow, Helen, knowing of his love for natural landscapes, endowed the Klingler Fox Hill Conservancy on November 13, her birthday. Her gift was vital to the completion of this project. We hope that Helen takes great pleasure in knowing that, thanks to her generosity, Fox Hill looks much the same way the Algonquin tribes and early explorers would remember it and will stay that way for generations to come.
Most passersby wouldn’t bother to take a second look at the view to the south from Highway 33 between Riesch Road and Highway 144 in the Town of West Bend. Stacking up a deep base of gravel to create level roads instead of expensive bridge building was common practice in the area during the mid-19th century. This caused the area behind the road to become a sunken bowl of acreage that is nearly impossible to discern from the main roadways.
At present, a thin commercial strip sits atop a gravel base along the highway. Behind that, rest fields that have been cultivated in alfalfa and corn over the years. Just behind the tree line south of the fields rest the headwater springs of the Cedar Lakes watershed. Indian Springs, the area’s unofficial name transferred through generations of locals, bubbles crystal clear water from countless springs into Gilbert Lake. That water then travels to Big Cedar, Little Cedar, Cedar Creek and the Milwaukee River, before finally reaching Lake Michigan.
Jim Fritsche knew well what lie hidden south of Highway 33. He purchased land seen from that view not once, but twice. Then, with the help of this Foundation, he protected that land – not once, but twice. In 1998, 25.1 acres were preserved when Jim Fritsche made the land available to the Conservation Foundation. Before his death in 2001, Jim Fritsche instructed his youngest daughter, Meg Jansky, to carry out his intention to preserve an additional 40 acres. The properties formerly referred to as “Fritsche I” and “Fritsche II,” later became The Fritsche Nature Preserve.
Tod Maclay, president of the Property Owners Association, introduced Jim Fritsche to his father, Geoff Maclay, and to William Genthe, former chairman of the Big Cedar Lake Protection and Rehabilitation District. These introductions created the new relationships from which planning for the Fritsche Nature Preserve became possible. Meg Jansky recalled her instructions: “My father explained that he spoke with Geoff Maclay often. They talked about the pond and planting trees. He asked me to promise that I would continue working with the Foundation until the land was preserved.”
Jim Fritsche’s interest in improving the watershed stemmed from his love of the outdoors. While serving for over a decade on the Property Owners Association, he and Tod Maclay developed an environmentally friendly, non-phosphorous fertilizer and made it available to those living near the lakes. “Their friendship, and my father’s satisfaction with what he saw happen so successfully with the first acres sold to the Foundation, convinced him to take steps to preserve the rest of his property,” Meg explained.
Protection of the Fritsche II property became a cooperative effort. Actual purchase of the property was accomplished by the Big Cedar Lake Protection and Rehabilitation District with funds received from the Department of Natural Resources and the Conservation Foundation. The Washington County Conservation Department then moved forward with the design and installation of a storm water retention pond that had been discussed as early as 1996.
Construction of the duck-shaped pond by Washington County was completed in October of 2002 with support from the Milwaukee River Priority Watershed Program. “It looks like a duck because we try to take advantage of the natural depressions in the land so that the least amount of grading is required. The pond looks like a duck, because the land looked like a duck,” explained County Conservationist Troy Kuphal.
Paul Sebo, senior conservation technician for Washington County, designed the pond. Its maximum depth of five feet and 1.8-acre surface area is all that is required to achieve 60 – 80% nutrient reduction in the water that eventually reaches Gilbert Lake. Mr. Sebo echoed the importance of doing the least amount of digging possible. Pond size is based upon the amount of watershed area in need of storm water management. This pond will receive run-off from 155 acres of watershed, which includes a large portion of Highways 33 and 144. “The pond will become increasingly important over time, as areas along those highways are slated to be future commercial land,” Sebo said.
Ironically, the duck shape actually serves a significant functional purpose, according to Sebo. “Water from the fore bay area will enter the pond at the ‘head’ of the duck. It then passes over the ‘neck,’ which is just three feet deep, then to the five foot depth of the ‘body.’ Clear water leaves the pond and returns to the watershed from the middle of the five foot depth via two 24-foot plastic pipes. This keeps algae from the top of the water and sediment from the bottom in the pond. This also means the ‘head’ of the duck will need to be cleaned out more often. Deposits not suitable for topsoil, will be used elsewhere for fill,” he explained.
Mr. Sebo predicted that the “neck” of the pond will eventually fill with cattails, giving the appearance of two ponds in the future. Winter wheat planted along the banks of the pond will come up in spring to prevent erosion. Plans to replace the winter wheat with native grasses and wildflowers are being made by the Conservancy Lands Restoration Committee of the Big Cedar Lake Protection and Rehabilitation District. Areas just beyond the banks have been selected as an Adopt-A-Tree site.
Finally, after new plantings take hold, and as the pond works to keep our lakes and streams cleaner, new walking trails will attract gentle visitors to view and appreciate the delicate and restored habitat of the Fritsche Nature Preserve.
Indian Springs, the area’s unofficial name transferred through generations of locals, bubbles clear water from countless springs into Gilbert Lake. That water then travels into Big Cedar and Little Cedar Lakes, Cedar Creek and the Milwaukee River before finally reaching Lake Michigan.