Marilyn Houck: 2023 Working Lands Preservation Award

Four adults standing outside in a field on a cloudy day for an award presentation.

Gathering Waters presented Marilyn Houck with the 2023 Working Lands Preservation Award alongside staff from Mississippi Valley Conservancy on September 28, 2023 at a small celebration on Marilyn’s farm.

Marilyn, and her late husband Kent, have spent decades managing and protecting their nearly 1,000-acre farm in Richland Center. Together, they raised llamas on the lush pastures and sustainably farmed many acres of crops and hay. Through consultations with environmental organizations and careful consideration, they made smart choices like planting filter and contour strips and rotating crops annually to preserve soil health and prevent run-off into nearby waterways.

They worked extensively with experts at the Mississippi Valley Conservancy, the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, the Richland County Conservation Department, Pheasants Forever, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and also enrolled some of their land in the USDA Conservation Reserve Program. In addition to the land that is farmed, their property also includes forestlands and wetlands, both of which have been actively managed to ensure the optimal functioning of the land.

“We’re so glad to have this chance to recognize Marilyn (and Kent) for their decades spent devoted to their land,” said Mike Carlson, executive director of Gathering Waters. “With all of the different habitat types covering the farm, Marilyn is providing many different species of plants and animals protection in perpetuity, giving nature space to thrive for generations to come.”

When considering the next steps for the land, Marilyn reached out to her local land trust, Mississippi Valley Conservancy, to discuss how best to permanently protect the land under her care. The conservancy suggested a conservation easement to ensure legal protection of the property beyond Marilyn’s lifetime. Marilyn was thrilled to discover this was a possibility. The conservation easement was completed in 2022, covering the entire 993-acre mosaic of working farmland, forestland, and wetland.

“Marilyn has carried on the farming traditions of Kent and his family while continually following the best conservation practices to ensure the land will continue to be a viable place for all the plants and animals that live there,” said Carol Abrahamzon, executive director at Mississippi Valley Conservancy. “We are honored to serve in protecting her beautiful land, along with a growing number of nearby properties, here in Richland County.”

Congratulations, Marilyn! Thank you for your passion and commitment to land conservation in Wisconsin and for ensuring that the nearly 1,000 acres under your care 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 Working Lands Preservation Award

The Working Lands Preservation Award recognizes individuals or organizations that exhibit extraordinary commitment to the preservation of Wisconsin’s working lands.

Photo credit: Chris Kirkpatrick, Mississippi Valley Conservancy. Pictured from left to right: Tracy Hames, Wisconsin Wetlands Association; Carol Abrahamzon, Mississippi Valley Conservancy; Marilyn Houck; and Mike Carlson, Gathering Waters.