A 160-acre Conservation Area lies in the Village of Cleveland, Wisconsin, thanks to a group of concerned citizens who came together in the early 1990s to save it from development. This story includes a mention of the contentious aspects often underlying and driving such projects throughout the decades before and after the first Earth Day in 1970, and attempts to express what captured the hearts of this passionate group of area residents.
On the website, Fischer Creek is described as the most recent addition to the Manitowoc County Park System. “This 160-acre site was purchased by the State of Wisconsin using Stewardship money along with a contribution from Manitowoc County (and) is owned by the State and developed and maintained by the County.”
So, why was Fischer Creek ‘Worth Fighting For’, included in a feature documentary narrated by James Taylor in the latter 1990s as the Wisconsin poster child alongside three other citizen-based projects in Canada and Michigan?
First is its beauty and regional significance: Fischer Creek Conservation Area includes 1800 feet of Lake Michigan shoreline flanking the mouth of the Creek. The view is magnificent, with abundant bluffs reminiscent of their celebrated sisters to the north in Door County. Wildlife, bird species and wildflowers adorn its beach and trails through the park. It provides a sweet respite to the soul and song to the senses dulled by life’s stresses and crying out for the renewal only Nature can provide. And, families of fishermen and women can bring their children there to recreate and bond.
Lifelong resident Don Pirrung, featured in the film with John Kirsch, Rolf Johnson and others, were part of a citizen’s group who came together as Friends of Fischer Creek in the early 1990s when a Chicago-based developer wanted to put condominiums on the property, requiring annexation by the Village Board. Don brought to the group an engineering perspective.
Don says when they looked at the cost/benefit analysis of the proposed development, “What we’d gain in the short term would have been a drop in the bucket. We then distributed fact sheets to the community and we became a majority with a groundswell of support.
“This journey was a wild rollercoaster ride of emotions, from the highest highs to the lowest lows, sometimes in the same afternoon,” he adds. “What makes (the area) so special is its natural beauty and impressive bluffs.
“It also has archeological significance with State Historical Sites registered on the property. An old steel bridge dates back to a military road connecting Green Bay to Milwaukee. A woman who met with our Friends group said that for hundreds of years the site was considered sacred where Native Americans came to pray because of its unique overlook of Lake Michigan.
“The property has a special relationship with residents in the area. As kids we played there and as adults we still savor its natural beauty. Nature is its own entertainment center. Trout migrate in the spring through its stream.”
FOFC faced an enormous battle. They first decided to create the state conservation area in order to preserve it and subsequently had to raise the funds and work with the Village Board to approve the park’s creation. They persevered, despite the challenges, and on January 30, 1995, the Board officially voted to deny the annexation request from the developer.
Don reflects, “In over 37 years of engineering projects I’ve overseen and developed, participating in the creation of Fischer Creek Park was the most amazing thing I’ve ever been involved with. It shows how a group of people coming together can make a huge difference in our lives and environment. We focused on the elements of Nature as inspiration and let her speak for herself through a committed group of local residents.”
An Artist Tribute to Fischer Creek
“At Fischer Creek Park, prairie paths and woodsy walkways beckon pioneer spirits to continue their trek to the water.The mouth of the meandering creek opens up to kiss clean sands and invite further exploration of the shoreline. The variety of both expansive vistas and intimate cocooned places provide a wealth of inspiration for the artist, and a respite indeed for all of us. We need nature to soothe our souls, and this special place invites us to ‘idle awhile’ and rejuvenate our sensibilities.The Water’s Edge Artists have enjoyed painting here for years and will continue to celebrate the unique beauty of the area and environs in painted pigment.”
Artist: Bonnita Budysz
Title: “Bridge To Springtime” (at Fischer Creek Park)
Medium: Oil On Linen On Panel
Size: 12″ x 16″