Established in 1994, Gathering Waters Conservancy was created by a core of land trust leaders to serve as an educational and technical assistance clearing house for Wisconsin land trusts. Our founders, all on the leading edge of the land trust movement in the state -- Bud Jordahl, Jean Meanwell, Bill O’Connor, Geoff Maclay and Rob Chambers -- created Gathering Waters in response to a need for expanded capacity for voluntary, lasting conservation of important lands. They understood a need for strong partnerships among Wisconsin’s land trusts and for greater recognition of their importance to land and water conservation.
In its earlier days, GWC focused on building a network of land trusts. We achieved this mission with much success. In 1994 there were 12 land trusts in the state. Since then, we have grown the number of non-profit organizations permanently protecting land from those 12 to over 50.
Since our founding we have continually expanded the definition of “land trust service center” to keep pace with the remarkable growth and success of Wisconsin’s private land conservation movement.
Gathering Waters has successfully advocated for funding increases for the state’s renowned land conservation program, the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. We have bolstered land trusts’ visibility and effectiveness by building collaborations among land trusts and regional leaders around the state. We have introduced land trusts and their successes to statewide media. We maintain close contact with state and federal agencies to keep conservation programs working for Wisconsin. Gathering Waters Conservancy has earned our reputation as the premier land trust service center in the nation.
Our name invokes the essence of our state. It comes from stories that the Ojibway people, some of the first people to inhabit Wisconsin’s land, used a word meaning “place of gathering waters” to describe the region. Stories say the native word was transcribed by the French to “Ouisconsin,” and eventually evolved to “Wisconsin.”
Accurate or not, Wisconsin is indeed a land of gathering waters. Our landscapes – miles of beach, soaring bluffs, acres of ancient forest – were shaped by the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem, the mighty Mississippi and the last great glacial retreat. These lands inspired some of the country’s conservation giants, including Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Gaylord Nelson, and Lorrie Otto.
Energized by powerful geology, the natural beauty of our state and our inherited legacy of conservation leadership, Gathering Waters Conservancy advances Wisconsin’s preeminent tradition of land conservation and stewardship.