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.