The Kickapoo Valley Watershed Conservation Project, operating from 1996-1999, was the second site in the nation for TU’s Home Rivers Initiative. The landscape of the Kickapoo Valley in southwest Wisconsin reveals a story of environmental degradation and healing. Farming practices of early European settlers were ill suited to the steep terrain. Severe soil erosion increased flooding and devastated streams. As late as the 1950s Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources biologists were pessimistic the area would ever support healthy trout populations. Over time streams recovered much of their potential as a result of decades of conservation work and regional economic and land use changes. Many of these coldwater streams are again capable of supporting naturally reproducing populations of wild trout, a sign that overall watershed health is improving. Area resource management agencies and sports clubs began to restore degraded stream habitat further improving the fishery. Their activities helped create a setting where Trout Unlimited’s project could be successful and contributed to the region’s development as a regionally important fishery.
The goals of the project were to expand the fishery and improve the environment; increase awareness and support for its protection; provide a framework for sustainable management of the resource; and promote compatible development. The Kickapoo project built upon past work, created new partnerships, and expanded the local capacity to continue important protection, restoration, and education work. By forging strong partnerships with those capable groups we were able to accomplish an impressive amount. Some of the highlights of the project accomplishments include:
The work of many different groups contributed to these achievements. Our key partners included the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources, Vernon, Monroe,&Crawford Co. Land Conservation Depts. and NRCS offices, Community Conservation, Inc., Kickapoo Valley Reserve, Area School Districts, West Fork Sport Club, Westby Rod&Gun, Prairie du Chien, Gays Mills, Hillsboro, and Norwalk Sports Clubs, regional TU chapters, the Wisconsin State Council of TU, the University of Wisconsin, UW-Extension, and Coop-Extension, and numerous interested individuals.
The project coordinating committee wanted to ensure stream restoration projects, coordination among resource management agencies, education and public awareness strategies, and stream monitoring and assessment continued after the conclusion of the TU project. Most importantly, they recognized the value of a permanent organization to serve as a forum for promoting long-term stewardship of the resources of the entire river basin. A group of interested citizens began meeting in 1999 and worked together to establish a watershed conservation group called The Valley Stewardship Network  (VSN – pronounced “Vision”) which continues today to serve as a strong advocate for stewardship in the Kickapoo.
Kickapoo Project Reports: