For part of the year, a gravel road reaches a remote piece of Vilas County land.
But in the winter, a mile-long snowshoe is the only way in.
Snow decorated an evergreen forest as Trisha Moore and Troy Walters reached their destination and greeted Bob Martini, who owns the 31 acres of wilderness northeast of Eagle River.
Forty years ago, he built an eight-sided cabin here by hand.
“I just kept stacking logs on each corner. It was one of those ‘learn as you go’ things. As you can see, every notch is different. They’re all screwed up. The last notch is better than the first notch,” Martini said with a laugh.
There’s no electricity or running water. After all, it’s meant for remote getaways, not full-time living.
“We cut Christmas trees, we go deer hunting, we have New Year’s Eve parties and go skiing, all of that kind of stuff,” he said.
Even if he wanted to, Martini could never build much more than the primitive cabin on this land.
Nor could any future landowners, since he chose to have the property protected with a conservation easement from the Northwoods Land Trust. That bars future development or subdivision and preserves its natural state.
“It’s forever as forever gets,” said Moore, the conservation specialist for the Northwoods Land Trust.
Martini’s conservation easement is just one of dozens spread across seven counties. The agreements protect more than 13,000 acres of land and 70 miles of lakefront and riverfront. They guarantee the lands will never be developed, never be subdivided, and will never be anything but natural havens.
Martini built a fire for his visitors on the bank of the gem of the property, the Deerskin River. As the smoke rose, he told part of the river’s story.
“One thing that’s really unique about the river is it has the greatest, the most diverse aquatic insect community in the entire Wisconsin River basin,” Martini said. “It’s a stream that’s really special in this part of the state.”
But the land trust staff were on the property for more than a snowshoe, a fire, and to gaze on the frozen river.
Each year, every property protected by a land trust conservation easement gets a monitoring visit from a staff member or volunteer.
“It’s a really special time, I think, for us to connect with landowners, but for landowners to connect back with their land,” Moore said.
Monitors check in on any land changes, look for invasive specials, and reestablish property boundaries.
But perhaps most importantly, they rekindle interpersonal relationships between the land trust and
“’Trust’ is in our name, so [it’s] really important to build trust with people. We’re writing a document that is a forever document. People know that they can trust us to uphold that agreement long after they’re gone. One hundred years from now, when someone else is owning the land, the land is going to look very closely to the same that it does now,” Moore said.
As Moore and Martini talked, outreach and monitoring coordinator Troy Walters had been scouting the property.
“Tons of snow and no problems at all,” he said. “A lot of snowshoe hare tracks, and just a ton of snow.”
This land is good to go for another year.
It’s protected for the future, the very reason landowners work with the Northwoods Land Trust.
“They’re deciding to do these land protection agreements because they really do care about the land, and they want to see it stay protected in some way beyond when they’re around,” Walters said. “That seems to be the one that most often comes up is some sort of family wish.”
That’s true on Martini’s property, which he’s owned since 1978, had protected since the early days of the land trust, and views as a reliable refuge for his children.
“It’s kind of an anchor, because they’ve moved all over, but this is constant. It’s been the same for their whole lives. They like to come back. It’s something that they like and they have fond memories. That’s what we want, too,” Martini said.
On the way off the property, Moore passed a sign attached to a tree.
The words on it mean a lot to her.
“It says ‘protected forever. This private property is conserved forever with a land protection agreement thanks to the cooperation of this landowner and the Northwoods Land Trust.’”