Gathering Waters presented William (Bill) O’Connor with the 2023 Working Lands Preservation Award on October 13, 2023 at a Fall Celebration event hosted by Gathering Waters at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton.
Bill has played a key role in Wisconsin’s land trust movement for more than 40 years. As a private lawyer, he helped organize and incorporate several of the state’s land trusts and was a founder of Groundswell Conservancy and Gathering Waters Conservancy (now Gathering Waters: Wisconsin’s Alliance for Land Trusts).
As a legislative advocate, he spurred passage of the Wisconsin Conservation Easement Act, state tax policies favoring land trusts and conservation easements, and landmark legislation supporting a public-private partnership for conservation through the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program — Wisconsin’s best source of state funding for land conservation.
Bill helped convene an early meeting of the national Land Trust Exchange (now Land Trust Alliance) in Wisconsin and served as a Director and Board Chair. He has also served on the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Board of Curators and Northland College’s Board of Trustees.
Over more than four decades, Bill has provided legal services to the land trust community and scores of conservation landowners. He has worked to ensure conservation easements are written as clearly as possible to tell the story of the land and to protect against legal challenges.
Among other major projects, Bill played a key role in establishing America’s first Tribal National Park – Frog Bay on the Red Cliff Reservation, as well as Wisconsin’s twelfth historic site – Black Point Estate and Gardens on Lake Geneva.
“We would be hard-pressed to find another individual more deserving of this lifetime achievement award,” said Mike Carlson, executive director of Gathering Waters. “Bill has devoted his career to land conservation, providing legal services over the past several decades to conservation organizations and individuals interested in protecting their land in perpetuity. Thousands of acres of land are now safeguarded permanently because of his efforts, and for that, we are forever grateful.”
Congratulations, Bill! Thank you for your dedication to land conservation in Wisconsin and for all of your efforts to ensure that so many special places will be protected forever.
About the Land Conservation Leadership Awards
The awards, presented annually to conservation leaders by Gathering Waters, recognize the outstanding achievements and contributions of people who devote their time and talents to protecting Wisconsin’s land, water, and wildlife.
About the Harold “Bud” Jordahl Lifetime Achievement Award
This award recognizes a committed conservation professional or volunteer who has devoted their time, talents, and energy in support of land conservation over their lifetime, as demonstrated through extraordinary projects or other accomplishments that have permanently safeguarded Wisconsin’s natural treasures.
Photo credit: Rhianon Morgan, Gathering Waters. Pictured from left to right: Mike Carlson, Gathering Waters, and Bill O’ Connor.