Announcing the 2024 Land Conservation Leadership Award Winners

Collage of five photos showing the 2024 Land Conservation Leadership Award Winners.

Each year, Gathering Waters presents the Land Conservation Leadership Awards to recognize the outstanding achievements and contributions of individuals and organizations that devote their time and talents to protecting Wisconsin’s land, water, and wildlife. We celebrate these leaders in their communities throughout the year.

Read about each of the winners below!

Dr. Robert (Bob) Freckmann – Harold “Bud” Jordahl Lifetime Achievement Award

An older man in a field of tall grasses holding up a plant.
Photo credit: Tori Jennings

Dr. Robert (Bob) Freckmann’s contributions to conservation in Wisconsin are extensive. As a founding member of the North Central Conservancy Trust (NCCT) in the 1990s, Bob helped residents in Portage and Marathon Counties respond to concerns over threats to natural areas. Today, NCCT serves eight counties and currently holds more than 60 conservation easements that permanently protect over 5,000 acres of land in central Wisconsin. Bob has been involved in nearly all of these transactions. He has served on various boards and committees and continues to work with landowners who wish to protect their land.

In 2010, Bob and his late wife Sally donated a conservation easement to NCCT on their 32-acre property on the west side of Stevens Point. The land features both native and unlikely trees, shrubs, and plants from around the world, and serves as an outdoor teaching classroom for students.

In addition to his work with NCCT, Bob had a nearly 55-year career at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Although he has been officially retired for many years, he still frequents his desk at the second-largest herbarium in Wisconsin, a collection of 230,000 plants that he started in 1968, now appropriately known as The Freckmann Herbarium. Bob’s other talents and interests include designing and building his own home, and a deep knowledge and love of trains and classical music.

Joseph (Joe) and Mary Hovel – Land Legacy Award

An older man in a blue jacket with walking sticks and an old woman in a dark jacket leaning up against a tree.
Photo credit: Dan Dumas of Kim Swisher Communications

Joe and Mary Hovel have worked for decades to conserve and protect land in the Border Lakes region of Wisconsin, as well as in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and in Wisconsin’s Central Sands region. They have raised public awareness of the importance of land conservation and served as watchdogs for land use. They have negotiated and facilitated the purchase and sale of land and conservation easements, working with conservation groups and government agencies such as the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Forest Service.

The Hovels’ selfless, tireless, and savvy efforts have brought numerous conservation projects across the finish line, sometimes when funding and support were scarce. Notable projects that created or protected public access while conserving valuable ecosystems include the Headwater Cedars Community Forest, the Wildcat Falls Community Forest, the Pilgrim River Watershed Project, and the Upper Wisconsin River Legacy Forest, among others. They also advocated for the Pelican River Forest, the largest land conservation project in state history. In total, the Hovels have directly implemented, or supported through advocacy, the conservation of tens of thousands of acres across the region. Their actions have led many others to recognize the value of land conservation and join forces to achieve lasting results.

Clint Miller – Working Lands Preservation Award

An older man with a black jacket, baseball hat, and handlebar mustache outside by the mountains.

Clint Miller joined The Conservation Fund in 2008 and serves as the Central Midwest Regional Director. His extensive portfolio includes work in Wisconsin and many other neighboring states. He is the Fund’s lead on implementation of the Midwest Habitat Mitigation Project and is a recognized expert negotiator and facilitator of complex and innovative land conservation projects.

Over the past several years, Clint has been instrumental in safeguarding the largest land conservation project in modern Wisconsin history—70,000 acres in northern Wisconsin called the Pelican River Forest. In October 2021, The Conservation Fund purchased the land with the intention of selling a working forest conservation easement on the property. Clint’s unwavering leadership led to the successful completion of the Pelican River Forest easement in January 2024, ensuring permanent protection while also maintaining sustainable forestry practices and ensuring public access.

Clint also serves in leadership roles throughout the land trust community, acting as a commissioner on the national Land Trust Accreditation Commission and on Gathering Waters’ Land Trust Council.

Linda Mutschler – Land Trust Professional of the Year

A middle aged woman wearing a green jacket standing outside.

Serving as Executive Director of Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation (CLCF) for eight years and a board member for five years before that, Linda Mutschler’s passion for land conservation has been evident in every aspect of her work. One of Linda’s most notable achievements has been her instrumental role in the development and implementation of the organization’s strategic plan. Under her guidance, CLCF expanded conserved acres from 2,400 to nearly 3,000 acres during a five-year period.

Linda’s strong communication skills, combined with her genuine passion for conservation, have enabled her to effectively engage and mobilize support among landowners, stakeholders, and community members, resulting in tangible and lasting impacts for land conservation. This year marks CLCF’s 50th anniversary. Thanks to Linda, along with CLCF’s Board, donors, and volunteers, CLCF is in a strong position to continue advancing its mission for another 50 years and beyond.

Victor Illichmann – Land Trust Volunteer of the Year

An old man standing in a field with tall grass and a very tall flower.
Photo credit: Joni Denker

Victor Illichmann began the intensive land management of Green-Rock Audubon Society (G-RAS) properties over 20 years ago. It started with just a borrowed tractor and brush mower, cutting back willows that had overgrown the property at the Spring Creek Reserve. Over time, supporting G-RAS as a long-term Board member and volunteer, Victor helped identify the properties that needed work most urgently. He had a vision for what could be done to return the land to a state that would enhance the population of native plants and birds and insects, and he made that vision a reality.

He used his knowledge and leadership skills to lead work parties, seeking out people to help and working with the tools available, to make improvements that would benefit each property and enhance its value as a true conservation preserve. Good work achieves good results. Walking through the acres of restored properties that previously were overgrown messes and are now delightful woods and prairies, it is evident what Victor has accomplished.

We extend our thanks and gratitude to these individuals for their efforts to further land conservation resulting in lasting changes around the state. We’re excited to celebrate their accomplishments!