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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.

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(10) comments

Thundercloud

Kids can fish anywhere whether they are sick or not. Might be a noble cause here but it smells a little funny. Does the plan include building a cabin as well?

Jim Bob

Sick kids, huh. By golly you can't question anything once The Big C and kids are mentioned in the same sentence. Once the PUBLIC land is sold and privatized into this guy's parcel, it's sold. It's now private. Some people who get um, excited over ANY prospect of privatizing ANYTHING will support this for that reason alone. It's a religion. But, since he "moves fast" or even if he doesn't one or two years from now he's bored playing Santa to a bunch of kids, or he decides he doesn't want to after all, maybe there's some liability reasons or too-strict laws about what you do with kids on your property (Hello Michael Jackson and Neverland Ranch). But hey...he's got the land now...and you can't take it back. With the bobblehead Gubmint bodies we have who will stand in the way of his Plan B money-making (predictably child-free) scheme ? Pascarella the Snarky Fella needs to put the brakes on this now. Make a "Cadillac" Decision about a 1973 Daisy Yellow Gremlin idea.Thundercloud is right.

Visitor33

Hey jim bob, land swap, even if he were to do the things you mumble about, the government still has land that it would acquire through the swap.
So of he does stop in 2 years what does he have? Flooded former government land.

Blackhawkforever

If the land Mr Christenson proposes to give the county in exchange is nicer/of greater value, then it could be a win/win/win. Sounds like the committee is asking the right questions. I'd be more skeptical if it wasn't for his track record of conservation, but this could actually be an occasion of someone wanting to do something nice.

trapper

Define "nicer/of greater value"....one persons worthless wetland may be very valuable to another person....

Visitor33

I have no clue who this person is, but from 2 posts and reading the article I can conclude he is republican. How you ask? First, he's been given an award for his work in restoring wetlands. He's actually doing work, not talking about it expecting others to do it for him.
Second, thunder and jim bob are finding any little thing possible to make him out to be shady.
No thunder, kids can't fish anywhere. They can fish without a license, but can't fish anywhere. List all the places you could bring a wheelchair along Duncan creek for a child to fish?

Chippewa County Resident

Why just sick kids? My concern is for these "sick kids" contracting something else in the outdoors. Kid and adults for that matter, develop low immune systems which make walking to the car a hazard for them. How can we justify an outdoor venue for someone sick? I understand the yearning for something but am not sure this is the way to go.

Readerer

What about the people who use and have used that area of the County Forest for Hunting? The Chippewa County Forest is already overcrowded and over hunted as it is!! Less land only makes things more complicated and more unsafe! It is a noble cause but if he really thinks this is such a good idea why does he need 120 acres of County Land? Why not make public access points accessible for disabled with a nice donation/time?

Blackhawkforever

This appears to be a swap, not just a sale - so the county would have the same amount of land in the end, not less, and if they play their cards right, could even come out with more.

trapper

Typical reaction from christenson, "i'll buy whatever you want."....seems he's had success before just spending money for what he wants, a person like this has no real morals, the deal with the "sick" kids is just a sham to work on publics sensibilities...Gullickson has gone over to the dark side, as a former dnr warden you'd think he'd have better sense...the other concern is for the creek and associated wetlands downstream that will now lose possibly more water, what's going to happen to them? Dept. of No Results better look at this from all perspectives, hopefully big money doesn't influence them. In reality if higher water does touch county land then the public could use this body of water, If christenson is so magnanimous maybe a provision in deal would allow the public to use this resource, since the water filling his "lake" is coming off county land and out of the counties groundwater...

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