Cyclists on a trail. Vilas County has created many bike trails thanks to Knowles-Nelson.

Groups, Counties Call for Renewal of Knowles Nelson Stewardship Program

Outdoor recreation in the Northwoods has been bolstered by Stewardship investment.

Reporting for WXPR radio station, Katie Thoreson found great support for Knowles-Nelson among fans of the parks and trails of northern Wisconsin.

Jeff and Ann Currie, who have been working for a decade to expand and connect the Great Headwaters biking and hiking trail system, were excited this winter to see progress on an 8.5-mile trail expansion, funded in part by Knowles-Nelson.

“It’s a great feeling of accomplishment,” said Jeff.

The board of Vilas County, where the trail is located, agrees. They recently passed a resolution in support of Knowles-Nelson and its reauthorization in the state budget. They’re hoping for a long-term reauthorization to help them plan their forestry and recreation strategies.

“We would like some security and guarantee,” said Board Supervisor Holly Tomlanovich, who also noted that Vilas county “depends on the funding from the program to support its economy.”

In addition, “Langlade and Oneida County are considering passing their own resolutions in support the Knowles Nelson Stewardship Program.”

Some Republican legislators have brought up issues with the program, citing the expense and the high amount of publicly owned land in northern counties. But Charlie Carlin of Gathering Waters says the return on investment from Knowles-Nelson is much higher than the initial cost.

“Filtering air and water, habitat for wildlife, protecting communities from flooding, giving us places to play, to recreate, to recharge,” said Carlin, “Those 650,000 acres of land protected by Knowles Nelson stewardship dollars are returning a more than a $2 billion value to Wisconsin every single year.”

To address the concerns about too much public land, Carlin points out that “in terms of number of projects per county, none of the most northern counties make the top five,” so “we actually need investment and not less in northern Wisconsin because there are such popular trail systems and forest land that really support the local economy up there.”

Knowles-Nelson is popular across the state, as polling shows, with “92% of state residents supported reauthorizing the program for another 10 years” and “more than 75% support restoring the $86 million in annual funding it once had.”

Knowles-Nelson is now being considered by the state legislature, along with the rest of the governor’s budget. To speak up in favor of Stewardship, you can contact your legislators here.

Featured image by R. Jeanette Martin, 2014.

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