Leland Christenson has a vision for his property in the town of Birch Creek. He wants to build a single, large dam to replace two smaller dams on the land that he bought in 2008. With that large dam he wants to create a place where terminally or gravely ill children can go to can fulfill their wish to catch plenty of fish.
“It’s going to be the most spectacular pristine spot that you’ve ever seen,” said the Eleva businessman, who has won an award for his work restoring and preserving wetlands in Wisconsin.
But Christenson’s vision hinges on Chippewa County selling him to adjacent pieces of property that total 120 acres, land that’s used now as part of the Chippewa County Forest.
“I can’t flood your property with the flood easement I have right now,” he saying, explaining why he is asking for the land swap.
In return for buying the county land, Christenson would buy property for the county that the county could use to replace the lost forest land.
In his business, Christenson purchases deer hides from around North America which are turned into deerskin gloves.
He is used to quickly making business decisions.
“I move fast on stuff,” he told the Chippewa County Land Conservation and Forest Management Committee.
“You find some land you want. Merry Christmas. I’ll buy it for you,” he said.
Government, however, moves at its own pace. The committee was generally receptive to Christenson’s plan. However, it turned over work on the issue to County Administrator Frank Pascarella. He will start negotiations and work out details of an agreement with Christenson.
“If we’re giving up more than we’re getting, I wouldn’t expect (Pascarella) to come back with a recommendation to approve this,” Supervisor Mike Leisz said.
Those talks will take time. So will the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources considering whether to approve a land swap, using the criteria of whether the swap is what the state considers to be a higher and better use of the property. The conservation committee was told that DNR approval, if it comes, could take six months to a year.
And not everyone agrees that a land swap should take place.
“I don’t think the county is in the business to sell land,” said Jim Morning, the chairman of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress in Chippewa County.
People use the county land that Christenson wants for hunting and other recreation, Morning said.
Morning said he understands Christenson wants to use the property so children use it. But, he added: “I don’t know why he didn’t plan this ahead of time and why now he wants to buy land from the county.”
Christenson said one of his sons had a medical problem that was quite serious, and required hospitalization at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He said that experience got him to thinking of seriously ill children who could go to a place where no fishing license would be required, and where they could be guaranteed of success catching a fish.
“If we can help people a little bit and make their life a little easier, until you’ve been there, you don’t know what it’s like,” he said.
Former DNR Warden Dean Guillickson spoke in favor of Christenson’s plan, pointing to Christenson’s success in restoring wetlands.
“It’s like trading a Chevrolet for a Cadillac. The properties he’s looked at are higher quality,” Gullickson said.
He said Christenson offered to hire him to take terminally ill children fishing on Christenson’s property. Gullickson turned down being hired for the work, and instead volunteered to do it.
“For a moment, they forget the pain,” Guillickson said of the children, adding that the parents get to see their children smile.
“For some of these kids, they know the end is near,” Gullickson added.