The Gathering Waters Conservancy will honor three Wisconsin environmental leaders tonight in an award ceremony at Monona Terrace.
Jeanne Behrend will be named 2005 Conservationist of the Year for her role in preserving the 785-acre Patrick Marsh, an important recreational, educational, and cultural location northwest of Sun Prairie.
The marsh is a popular hiking spot, and bird-watchers come from as far as Indiana to sight the over 100 species that live in the area, as well as birds that stop there during seasonal migration. It also provides educational experience to students of the Patrick Marsh Middle School, who monitor water samples each month and give the information to the Department of Natural Resources for research.
"It's a really great opportunity for hands-on environmental education for the middle school," Behrend said. "We would like to see the marsh used in a broader way for educational purposes."
The marsh also serves as a link to early Wisconsin inhabitants. Historic trails, which were used by Ho-Chunk villagers and later became part of Highway 151, converge at the shore of the marsh. Buried inside, scientists have found a Clovis spear tip that was used to hunt mammoth and mastodon at the end of the Ice Age.
"This spear tip is a direct connection with human habitation in the area over 11,000 years ago," Behrend said.
Behrend was named Citizen of the Year by the Sun Prairie Sun editorial board this year.
"People walk up to me and tell me they really appreciate the work I've been doing to preserve land around the marsh," Behrend said. "They recognize how important this area is for conservation and just for recreation and enjoyment of the public, to be able to be outside and to be connected with nature."
As president of the Patrick Marsh Conservancy, Behrend uses money from the state Stewardship Fund to buy and preserve parts of the marsh. She also creates partnerships with the city of Sun Prairie, businesses, and private donors who match the fund's contributions.
Vicki Elkin, executive director of Gathering Waters, said the award ceremony coincides with the 15th anniversary of the Stewardship Fund, a $60 million program that has protected over 300,000 of Wisconsin land.
Other honorees include Janet Beach Hanson, a DNR retiree who has managed the Stewardship Fund since its initiation, and the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation, a leader in land management planning.