In Search of Stewardship

by Free Speech on August 28, 2009

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

Lodi, WI
by Dan & JoAnn Russler

– Donating a Park to the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation

Country Doctor Building, Main Street in Lodi, WI

Country Doctor Building, Main Street in Lodi, WI

“Community” and “stewardship” are key traditions in both Lodi itself and Wisconsin as a whole. Lodi echoes these traditions in its annual Aldo Leopold readings, in its city park system, in the Lodi Fair, and in myriad other ways throughout the year. Growing up in Wisconsin, I touched these traditions as a youth on the Kettle Moraine trails in southeast Wisconsin, and touched them again at the University of Wisconsin, home to Aldo Leopold, who created the “ethic of the land,” not just for Wisconsin, but the whole world. Wisconsin was also the springboard for John Muir, “Father of the National Park Service” during the early 1900s, where he promoted protection and stewardship of the nation as a whole. Marvelously, the National Park Service now has returned full-circle to Wisconsin to help sponsor our own Ice Age Trail and continue the tradition of community and stewardship in Wisconsin. Through growing up in Wisconsin, hiking the park trails, and studying at the University, these traditions of community and stewardship in Wisconsin had become part of my being. In fact, they were the reason I became a community doctor and still build “community in healthcare” today.

This story of John Muir, Aldo Leopold, the National Park Service and later the Leopold innovations in deer and forest management via the Department of Natural Resources in Wisconsin, is a story of community efforts building on each other: coming full circle from Wisconsin out into the larger world and back to Wisconsin; continuing to build the sense of community and stewardship in the Lodi. Daily, as a physician in Lodi, I keenly experienced the sense of community and stewardship in Lodi and the history of people and families in Lodi from the 1850s to this century. In my daily work, the tradition of families like the Irwins, who provided doctors to Lodi continuously from the 1850s to the 1980s, the farming families who conserved the soil in the fields and protected our trout streams and rivers, the businesses and families who donated land to our Parks, and the volunteers in City and Town governments who protected our community members touched me every day.

No wonder, then, as I left Lodi for roles in national and international healthcare, my family and I hoped to leave a memorial to “community and stewardship” in the Lodi area. While in Lodi, we had renovated an 1890s lawyer’s office that had marked the southern entryway into Lodi for over a century. At the time, the roof and floor were rotting and old floods had eaten away at the foundation. My children and their cousins and friends helped tear away at the layers of “modern debris” that had collected in the old building over the years. When demolition at the elementary school offered clean fill material, we built up the neglected green space into a usable grassy area and re-landscaped it for a more attractive entranceway to Lodi. The best materials were used inside the building (including native hickory floors from Lodi woods, thanks to the Barbian brothers); we paid the City to upgrade the sewer and water from the street; and got the best roofing we could buy. As Mike Ryan’s workmen said, “Now, this building will last another hundred years!”

Even then, it was clear that a strong, regional eco-tourism program was needed to keep downtown Lodi  vital and bustling. The charm of Lodi could not maintain itself on its traditional agricultural base and required people “stopping in Lodi on their way through” to pay for the services offered by Main Street businesses. Like many rural and urban community centers have discovered, a “multi-use Main Street” is essential to the support of small businesses maintaining the charm of the old buildings. At the same time, the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation, with a mission to “create, support, and protect the trail…by organizing and coordinating local government and private sector…” was signing partnership agreements with the National Park Service and the Wisconsin DNR, playing a significant role in protecting public resources. What a wonderful vision! What a way to protect the entryway to Lodi to the betterment of the City, the Town, and the surrounding Towns in Columbia County. The donation of an historic Public Park, complete with an historic Park building, green space, and infrastructure for park upgrades for both the hikers and the local communities might help drivers stop, get better informed about the public resources in the Lodi and the rest of the unique Driftless Ice Age Area. Perhaps these drivers would have a meal, return to Lodi as a base for further exploration, and stay in local B&B, campgrounds, and hotels.

Feeling that the mission of the Ice Age Parks and Trail Foundation would protect our donation for the betterment of the local governments and local private sector as well as focus on betterment of services to the users of the Ice Age Trail, we offered a proposal that was accepted by the Ice Age Trail and Park Foundation. We donated the new Public Park property, including green space and building, to be one of the many parks along the Ice Age Trail. However, as an urban park along the trail, it represented a unique resource to hikers of the Ice Age Trail. Clean water and sewer could be easily accessible. Information was visible to drivers on a State highway, and park resources were protected by local police. Maintenance was available from local government and the many local volunteers. And the historic building provided the opportunity for a revenue source to maintain the property, via rentals to community groups or others needing to share office space, until the “urban park” could be more fully developed.

Accordingly, our stipulations on the Public Park donation were quite loose. Maintain public horse hitches to attract the local horse owners and horse industry to town, like Baraboo does, and maintain local charm and thrills for the “city kids.” Create and maintain the public access to the public park and local information center. On the other hand, we could not expect the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation to maintain the Park forever. To that end, with our good understanding of the mission of the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation to protect public resources, we agreed to trust the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation and allow the sale or transfer of the public park, presumably to other local resources that would protect the historic building and community use of the property and the mission of community and stewardship underlying the donation. In so doing, we agreed that the name of the new Park, reflecting the memorial to the community stewardship of the Country Doctors of Lodi, might need to change; the “Country Doctor Ice Age Park” might, someday, need to be renamed. But we were confident that the family labor and money we donated via the Public Park would continue to benefit the larger Lodi community, the community that nourished our family and that we served during our fourteen years in Lodi.

Since our donation, we’ve been pleased to see that the community of Lodi and the area volunteers have born the bulk of the maintenance costs of the Park. The city has kept up the sidewalks, trees, and lawn and the volunteers have contributed labor and materials to maintaining the building in a historically sensitive manner. Lodi has certainly played its role in the Wisconsin’s “Smart Growth” agenda for public planning, public commitment, and historic preservation. We could have asked for no better gift back to our family from the community and stewardship of Lodi. Thank you, Lodi!

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Thankful September 3, 2009 at 10:17 PM

Wow, after reading all this I’m even more impressed with the Russlers and their gift. Also, WOW on the 20 million…where did that all go?
It really seems there are a lot of pertinent points here to explore and I hope someone does a follow-up story on this after talking with Mr Wollmer. Though I do believe he could’ve provided some nice information for us right here. I consider this forum to be a newspaper with instant access to comment (a bit better than a blog) where concerned local citizens can express their opinions freely and maybe come out on top by getting to the bottom of things!
Thanks to everyone caring about our natural resources, Lodi and free speech.

2 sundayslady September 3, 2009 at 2:32 PM

sad, sad state of affairs this is.
Reading this over, I can see why the Russlers feel ignored and stepped on. It would have been only polite for IATA to contact them before they put up a commercial “for sale” sign.

And Mr. Wollmer you appear very arrogent indeed with your “I’m too busy with your small town discussion” comment.

3 lyl September 2, 2009 at 9:59 PM

Respectfully, I find it tragic that the Executive Director of the IATA has chosen not to consider a public dialogue part of his job. Whether he is actually on the 1200 mile trail, or in fact blogging with concerned IATA supporters in the Lodi area who have just suddenly lost a significant IATA building, I would think that the tax payers of the $20.4 million that the IATA has been given would garner at least a consideration from him on the public forum for the situation. Apparently, this executive director thinks not. Why? Perhaps Rep. Baldwin thinks otherwise.

4 Mike Wollmer September 1, 2009 at 3:09 PM

Respectfully, I am not hiding, my door is always open and my phone is as available as possible.
With almost 1200 miles of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail to attend to, I’m unable to spend any further time on this blog.

5 Truthseeker September 1, 2009 at 6:55 AM

Please Mr. Wollmer, If there are untruthful and unfair comments being made in this forum reveal the truth and debate the unfairness. Don’t hide in your office, come join us on the information “Trail”

6 lyl August 31, 2009 at 12:09 PM

“Is there a civic group that even wants the building? If so,they should contact the Alliance. That way we could have a storefront that is occupied but never open.”
WHAT? The IATA office was almost never open, and most folks in Lodi don’t even know that it is there. Why? It is not only because the Enterprise has deteriorated to the point that it wouldn’t even touch a controversial subject. Many people in Lodi spent about 2 years trying to figure out where a community center could be established…there was no money to be found and no place to put one. Not that this building could have been one, but there are many groups, including the Chamber that could love the idea of that building but are financially unable to consider the cost.
I see in Sunday’s State Journal that Rep. Baldwin has secured $20.4 million (yes, that’s twenty point four million dollars of our taxes!) for the IATA since 1999. I wonder if anyone has contacted her office? Seems like the asking prices here are a drop in the bucket, in comparison.
And, from my point of view, there’s nothing wrong with a public forum debate!

7 Mike Wollmer August 31, 2009 at 10:18 AM

Good morning,

My name is Mike Wollmer, executive director of the Ice Age Trail Alliance. I am also a Lodi area resident.

I know many of the authors that have provided comments from their names. The others initials are not familiar to me.
There are many good questions asked in the previous comments. There are also very untruthful and unfair comments made.

While I chose to not debate this issue online, I am more than happy to talk with anyone directly. There don’t appear to be any questions that I would not answer.

I am in the office most days at 608-798-4453.

8 dazed-n-confuzed August 30, 2009 at 8:29 AM

@Walk On-many great points here. However…

I am aware that you do not locate or relocate based on driving distances. However, that should be part of the impact study, just another piece of the puzzle. Similarly, while the new building may be more energy efficient (higher efficiency furnace, new windows, better insulation), if the overall consumption (gas and/or electricity) of building is greater, there is therefore a greater environmental impact.

I find it disappointing that the City of Lodi did not do more to “woo” the IATA to stay here. I have always felt that having an office here was a great “selling point” for Lodi. In fact, wasn’t the trail directed through downtown primarily because there was an office there?

As far as the argument for moving based on empty storefronts, that is extremely counter-intuitive. Assume for a moment that any other business downtown employs the same logic. What does Lodi look like in 5 years? A ghost town? Somewhere along the line, it would be nice if somebody digs their heals in and does the right thing. It would have been nice if that ideal had begun the IATA.

As far as I can tell, the Russler’s intent and purpose was to benefit, in this order, 1. Lodi, 2. Ecotourism and 3. the IAT, not the reverse. While we all know that the trail itself is not moving, Lodi will only gain some minor ancillary benefit by having it pass through town. Have any studies been done to give us accurate information on how many people this trail brings to town on an annual basis and what they spend here? That is part of the true impact/benefit of the trail.

I feel that the IATA should be donating the green space to the city and selling the building to another ecotourism-promoting-organization for exactly what the Alliance has invested in $$$ in the building, not a dime more. While you can argue that the profit will get dumped back into the trail, unless it is staying in Lodi, it seems to run counter to what the Russler’s intent was and is.

9 JoAnn Russler August 29, 2009 at 5:52 PM

Lessons learned from a Country Lawyer…I was privileged to have worked for and with Don Ryan, who practiced law in Lodi his entire (long and successful) career. When he was ready to retire, he wanted me to take on the practice, but a small matter of a brand-new baby (Child #3) a husband’s busy medical practice, a nationally-recognized Great Pyrenees Kennel and two parents in the Lodi Good Sam Home made it more than I could contemplate, at which point Don finally said “yes” to Lathrop & Clark, which had wanted to acquire the practice for some time. Anyway, To say that Don was my mentor understates the case. This many years later, I still hear his voice commenting on things both law and non-law related. One of his phrases in particular comes to mind when thinking about how the IATA has chosen to handle the property we donated.
“It doesn’t pass the smell test” was a standard Don taught me to use, even (or especially) when it might be inconvenient (and legal….) For instance, why has no one I’ve asked seen the detailed results of the “survey” by which Cross Plains ranked some minimal points ahead of Lodi? Why did no one from IATA take the time to look at the plans that were developed to utilize the larger mini-mall space? Why has no one from IATA given us the courtesy of a phone call to discuss its’ divestment of the property? (If it must end in private hands, I am quite sure my niece Katie (who lives in Lodi and is a very talented artist) would love to have it as a studio…Why did the information that IATA was probably moving to Cross Plains come out within a month of us paying up the mortgage on the property? Why do I hear Don saying, “Hmmmm, JoAnn, it doesn’t pass the smell test….”

10 enlighten me August 29, 2009 at 3:51 PM

Thank-you Walk On for a small explanation, you make a few points on old news. I’m still confused as to if the IATA is into bricks and mortar or not since they (or some donor) did put money into a building in Cross Plains.
Is that 10 full time staff and is that building occupied full time? What other small town IATA offices closed and were incorporated into Cross Plains?
You do bring up a good point. The City of Lodi does not seem to be promoting this town enough, but then the bottom line does seem to be about money since as What the Duck (and thanks for the laughs) points out, it must be that Cross Plains came up with money. Maybe money is scare these days!
Another small building on the tax rolls won’t make a dent in this city accomplishing anything. You are right that volunteers make a difference and now its time for the city to start making a difference. There are empty store fronts everywhere, not just in Lodi, maybe even in Cross Plains. Yes, thanks to the Russlers, to the IATA, and to volunteers everywhere.
I guess its just not enough to overcome no vision from the City of Lodi…? Who IS poised to remedy empty stores and general downtown decline? That’s a very big and broad topic.

11 What the Duck August 29, 2009 at 11:42 AM

Well “Enlighten Me” The Ice Age Trail Alliance chose Cross Plains rather than Lodi to locate its headquarters for a very simple reason. Cross Plains showed them the CA$H and the real estate and then all you could hear was the pitter patter of Vibram soles heading South by Southwest.

12 Walk On August 29, 2009 at 11:08 AM

The New Building in Cross Plains vs. Lodi – Old News

Yes, the new building is eco-friendly. You cannot base your building location on where your staff lives as staff members change over time. Although the new building is not LEED certified it is much more efficient than the building on Main St.

The example of empty storefronts is a reason not to be here. Other than the city hall switch, what gains has Lodi made in downtown over the past 5 years? Why would a statewide organization be drawn here?

This is a symptom, and not the problem. The Cross Plains area wanted the Alliance and worked hard to provide the incentives to get it. The City of Lodi knew Lodi was in the running for the new headquarters long before they ever started thinking about incentives to get the Alliance here. Had the City gotten its act together we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

I pushed hard for the Alliance to land in Lodi. I wrote letters and made many calls. Having seen the process the entire way through, I feel Cross Plains deserves to have the new headquarters.

Selling for Profit? Taking the Money and Running.

The IATA has provided considerable amounts of money for Trail projects in Lodi (Bridge behind the HS, youth hiking programs, Challenge Cost Share grants, etc). This does not even begin to include the land purchases orchestrated by the IATA, which prevent urban sprawl. Land purchases near Slack Rd are perfect examples. Don’t worry about the money leaving town, it has already been invested in the Lodi area. These are only a couple of examples of how the Alliance does in fact continue to be stewards of the Lodi area, community and the people.

By selling the building the IATA increases their capacity to protect more land and in doing so, provide a civic contribution to the Lodi area, not to mention the other 150+ Wisconsin communities the Trail passes through. Selling the building allows the Alliance to focus on Trail protection, construction and promotion rather than more bricks and mortar.

Is there a civic group that even wants the building? If so, they should contact the Alliance. That way we could have a storefront that is occupied, but never open.

Every dollar the Ice Age Trail Alliance has is directed toward building and protecting the Ice Age Trail. Every dollar gained from selling the building will flow in this same direction, which ultimately helps the Lodi community. Spend five minutes with IAT staff and you will see how hard they work for the love of the Trail and not for a bonus or frills gained from selling buildings too small for a staff of 10.

People will visit Lodi via the Trail. The City should be happy their contribution allows the Alliance to gain funds in an attempt to protect lands and help beautify the Lodi area. I too wish it could be sold/transferred to a civic organization, but again, where are they? Which community group wants, or can afford, to pay the maintenance and utilities? Would it not serve the community to get a building back on the tax roll?

To say Lodi got the Alliance on their feet is a slap in the face to the other 150+ communities that have done so much for land protection and the Trail, not to mention visionaries such as Gaylord Nelson and Ray Zillmer. Further, the Alliance has maintained the building for years. Had they not, we would see a pile of bricks and not the grand space that is there now.

The Russlers have made a great contribution to the Lodi community, which will ripple through the other small, and at times struggling, towns of Wisconsin the Trail passes through. They are a class act all the way.

Bailing Out?

Take a walk on any IAT segment in the Lodi area and you will see that the Ice Age Trail Alliance, local and statewide volunteers have no intentions of leaving the Lodi area. Again, it is the Trail that builds eco-tourism and not an office.

The Lodi office was one of several throughout the state. In order to become more efficient the Alliance centralized in Cross Plains, which provided many incentives to get the Alliance to land there.

13 enlighten me August 29, 2009 at 8:47 AM

Could someone please tell me why the Ice Age office left Lodi in the first place? Was it the local chapters decision or who was responsible? Also, I’d be curious how much money was needed for the move and who paid for it all? Was Federal, State or Cross Plains money used, or was it all donation funded?
Finally, what was or is the intention of the IATA or the local chapter for the land and building they vacated? Do they intend to continue to support the trail or eco-tourism here and do they intend to transfer the property to a Lodi non-profit for community purposes?
Does anyone know the answers to these questions? And I’m sure there are more.

14 dazed-n-confuzed August 28, 2009 at 8:36 AM

And this would surprise anybody how?

This is business as usual in the good ol’ US of A. You see that American-made Ford Focus across the street from the IAT office? Not really an “American-made” car. Why? Because Ford found a sniff of money and moved its production to Mexico, with Canadian-made parts.

How does this relate to the IAT? One sniff of money (“free” building, profit from the sale of the existing building) and the IAT moves down the road for the “better” offer. So what is Lodi left with? Take a walk down Main St. and see-another vacant storefront.

I’m sorry, but I’m also having a tough time figuring out how this move is eco-friendly. Don’t we now have IAT staff driving farther to get to work? Wasn’t there some environmental impact through building a new building? Is this building going to be LEED certified? Aren’t low-impact & eco-friendly parts of the mission of the IAT? If they aren’t, shouldn’t they be?

Stewardship comes in many different flavors. While it is apparent that the IAT has connected with the idea of stewardship of land, it seems that the organization is lagging in its implementation of the concept of stewardship as it applies to communities and people. For a “local”, volunteer-driven organization, I find this to be very disheartening.

15 bill welch August 28, 2009 at 7:19 AM

I hope that those who are concerned about the possible sale of these properties are aware of a couple of things… first and foremost is the idea that any proceeds the Ice Age Trail Alliance is able to get will NOT be used for CEO bonuses or lavish retreats in the Bahamas! It is not a “take the money and run” situation. All the proceeds go toward the Alliance’s mission of completing, maintaining & promoting the Ice Age National Scenic Trail that runs right through Lodi. Second, is that the Alliance has been in communication and negotiation with the city to insure that Country Doctors Park is able to stay true to the original vision. Thirdly, that there is a local ad-hoc group working to find a use for the building that would also honor the original vision and promote eco-tourism in the Lodi area.
As one of the people that has volunteered (almost all the work of the Alliance is done by thousands of volunteers across the state) at the office and the park and on the trail I can assure you every one of the thousands of the IATA members is thankful to the community of Lodi – we are part of the community of Lodi.
Stewardship does not necessarily mean keeping things exactly the same. Nothing stays the same forever. Now that the Alliance has its new state-wide headquarters in Cross Plains the scheme of things has changed and the Lodi properties are not such a close fit. Yet the Alliance is still committed to stewardship of the properties, to adhering to the original vision of the donation as closely as possible, to continue to be a vital part of the Lodi community, and to completing its mission – the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

16 Dan Russler August 28, 2009 at 5:48 AM

I appreciate the comments on the desire to preserve our donation for the benefit of Lodi and the surrounding Columbia County and Sauk communities. Certainly, that was our intent in making the donation. My personal belief is that each community has stewardship responsibilities for the portion of the Ice Age Trail in their area, and Lodi has certainly been living up to that responsibility. Truly, we didn’t expect to have the property sold to benefit the Cross Plains area or other areas of the Trail outside of the Lodi area.

Of course, we couldn’t expect the Ice Age Trail to manage the property forever. It would be reasonable for the Trail (in light of the Trail’s public promises to stewardship, protection, work with local stakeholders, and the other “Smart Growth” commitments) to transfer the property (for whatever amount of money the Trail has invested in the property) to another stewardship entity within the Lodi area. We specifically allowed for that kind of transfer of ownership in the donation agreement with the Ice Age Trail.

However, since we are no longer Lodi residents, I can understand the Trail’s reluctance to negotiate with us. Truly, the Trail has an obligation to negotiate with the residents of Lodi and Columbia County on how best to preserve the local resources entrusted with their care…but not with us. If the Lodi community does not wish the “money to be taken out of the property and Lodi area,” then the Lodi community will need to negotiate with the Ice Age Trail under the rules of the Wisconsin “Smart Growth” agenda.

This is not an easy task. Long-term stewardship is a continuous effort across changing generations of decision makers. The influence of any given generation of decision makers can undo all the benefit of generations of decision makers in the past. In his studies on dying cultures over history, the author Diamond made a chilling observation; the decision makers are the last to starve. Stewardship is really about the decision makers. In this case, the decision makers under the Smart Growth agenda live in the Lodi area, both the Lodi area community at large and the local members of the Ice Age Trail.

17 lsg August 27, 2009 at 11:22 AM

Why wouldn’t the Ice Age Trail foundation consider continuing stewardship here in Lodi??? I think that was the just of what the Russlers were trying to say.
The Russlers made a gift to help Lodi because they loved this area and wanted to help LODI. The benefactors bailed out of here when given the chance at MONEY over stewardship for the community even though the community supported them over the past years. The Ice Age Trail people paid no taxes and did no maintainence all these years. Do they have some thanks to the community that got them on their feet?
As a foundation that relies on gifts of property and money, I would think they should have some reciprocity in them!

18 lyl August 26, 2009 at 10:21 PM

I’m amazed that the Russlers are still so involved with their donation, and I applaud them. I am, however, extremely saddened that the Ice Age Trail has decided to sell this property to the highest bidder for their own gain, and not take into consideration the Russler’s original intent to keep it in Lodi’s hands. Legal doesn’t make it the right thing to do.

19 Roy Gromme August 25, 2009 at 7:23 PM

A heartfelt thank you also to the Lodi Community and the Ice Age Trail Alliance for embracing the visions of the Russler family. Hopefully the original donation will continue to be a part of the Russler vision.

20 Bill Welch August 25, 2009 at 5:02 PM

…and a hearty “thank you” to the Russlers for believing in the Lodi community and the vision of a 1000+ mile footpath across Wisconsin, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

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