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DNR announces 2024 Public Access Lands Atlas of Wisconsin

The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program has helped expand public access lands in Wisconsin since 1989.

Jim Lemke, real estate section chief with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), spoke with Wisconsin Public Radio host Larry Meiller about public land acquisition and the 2024 Public Lands Atlas of Wisconsin, now available in print or online. The online atlas is interactive and is updated every two months.

The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program has served as the DNR’s funding arm for purchasing properties since its inception 30 years ago. Meiller and Lemke discussed the bipartisan roots of the Stewardship Program, and Lemke stressed the program’s continued importance not only to the DNR, but also to local governments and nonprofits.

“A big part of our grants program is the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. Those are monies that counties and nonprofit organizations can use not only to acquire properties, expand existing parks that they have, but they can also use it for facilities improvement,” said Lemke. “[It] continues to be just a great avenue for supporting recreation in the state of Wisconsin and conservation of lands as well.”

In the program’s early years, Knowles-Nelson funds for DNR land acquisition were in the $20 million range annually. Funding has since dropped to $5 to $6 million per year.

Lemke said that the DNR must now be more selective in how it uses those funds, focusing on properties near population centers and filling in gaps in state ownership to improve access.

“If you had the chance to research all the projects and properties that were bought since 1990 with Knowles-Nelson funding – it’s changed the shape of Wisconsin, it’s changed the $9 billion recreational industry,” Lemke added. “The impact in the state of Wisconsin through [Knowles-Nelson] has been far-reaching. And the other beautiful thing about it is perpetual, so it’ll be that way forever.”

Featured image by Joshua Mayer, 2015.

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