Sarah Perry creates a legacy of land conservation

“I believe providing for land protection is an investment that will last. The land needs to live forever, to secure the well-being of all those who come after us.” ~ Sarah Perry

Recently, Creal Zearing, Gathering Waters’ Director of Philanthropy, sat down with longtime conservation supporter, Sarah Perry. Creal learned more about Sarah and her passion for protecting land in Wisconsin.

I was raised in the beautiful Northwoods of Wisconsin and enjoyed both a loving family and a rewarding career. My life has been blessed. Now, as I look ahead, I want to make a difference that lasts far into the future and benefits as many people as possible.

We find ourselves living in an era where everything is focused on the short-term. I find the concept of providing lasting benefits, opportunities for perpetuity, both fascinating and important. Creating a plan to make positive, lasting change was always my goal. I asked myself: what can one person accomplish that will not end? — What can I do that will keep going forever?

My family loved spending time in nature — in the forest and at the lake. I wanted to pay tribute to them by protecting the places where we shared so many precious memories. Preserving nature would be a way to quietly and peacefully honor them forever.

That’s what inspired Sarah’s conservation legacy. But her love for Wisconsin’s lands and waters started years earlier in northern Wisconsin, where she spent much of her childhood.

As kids, we loved living on the lake, swimming, exploring, and especially the great freedom we enjoyed. It was a magical time. Those years on the lake caused me to fall in love with limnology, the study of freshwater ecosystems. Understanding the fragile relationships between the biology, chemistry and physical features of freshwater environments ignited a passion to protect Wisconsin’s amazing lakes and waterways.

My father also cared deeply about the environment. When I was a young child, he purchased lakeshore property in the Harrison Hills with plans to eventually build a cabin. But my father fell in love with that special place, the trees and the wildlife. He couldn’t bring himself to disturb a single tree or creature. We shared many years walking through the forest together, identifying trees, mushrooms, and birds by song. Thankfully, that beautiful property stayed just as nature intended.

After losing my dad and my brother, I wanted to permanently protect the land that was so dear to our hearts. Fortunately, I discovered the Northwoods Land Trust, and together, we protected my father’s special place with a conservation easement. This made me so happy, so at peace. I can rest in the knowledge that the land and lakeshore will remain wild and natural forever.

When I’m walking that beautiful property, I feel close to my family and know I did the right thing, not just for today, but for all the years to come. It’s a great feeling.

The Northwoods Land Trust will ensure the terms of the easement are upheld for generations of landowners to come. This property will always be home to native plants and animals.

My relationship with the Northwoods Land Trust led me to Gathering Waters. This statewide organization is essential to local Wisconsin land trusts. They help land trusts stay strong so they can care for land in perpetuity. They also bring the land trusts together so there is more clout to fix problems and more voices to celebrate success.

Gathering Waters’ support is crucial, especially for smaller land trusts that are pressed to do it all. It’s not about just saving the Northwoods, but about saving the marsh lands, the forest, and the lakes – every landscape in Wisconsin.

Sarah spends her winters in northern California where she built a career in financial services. But Wisconsin remains her first love.

Northern California is a very beautiful environment. I enjoy exploring the dramatic and majestic landscapes of the West Coast, but it’s Wisconsin that always calls my heart. It’s home.

At times, I find myself homesick for Wisconsin’s comforting, natural beauty, and its many quiet, peaceful places. I miss the familiar plants and animals that come to life each spring and make the very most of their short season before going back to sleep in autumn or migrating south for winter. It’s one reason why I decided to keep my old family home in northern Wisconsin. I couldn’t bear to miss our glorious Wisconsin seasons.

Sarah made a tangible difference by protecting land with a conservation easement, but she is also continuing to build her conservation legacy through her estate planning.

I learned about the importance of wills and estate planning when my mom passed away. I handled her estate, and later, also the estate of a close friend. Having been through those experiences, I wanted to make sure my wishes were clearly and thoughtfully documented. I wanted to make sure the causes I care deeply about would be taken care of.

That’s when I decided to make estate gifts to both the Northwoods Land Trust and Gathering Waters. I wanted to leave a lasting legacy of land protection.

My family’s most joyous moments were spent outside enjoying nature. That’s why it’s important for me to help protect the land – these special places must be carefully set aside and protected, so they can continue to inspire us forever.

With her background, Sarah understands the financial needs of nonprofits better than most. She knows it’s important for land trust organizations to have the resources they need to fund land protection and land management work.

Each of us will reach an age when we reflect on our place in history. Most of us will want to leave a legacy that will last for generations. It’s important to specify funds in your estate plan to help the important people in your life. However, I feel it’s equally important to specify a portion of your estate to create your legacy…to let the world know what you value most deeply. Choose one or more nonprofits that resonate deeply for you. Be sure to give those organizations a healthy portion of your estate or retirement fund. Your loved ones will cherish and be inspired by your thoughtfulness of others.

For me, an important choice was nature conservation. It’s a big part of who I am. Legacy goes beyond family. An estate gift can leave a lasting legacy by making sure precious natural environments can last forever.

Sarah is also involved in her community through her association with the Climate Reality Project.

As you know, the changing climate is a huge issue on the West Coast, especially with the dramatic weather, drought, and wildfires we are now experiencing. As part of The Climate Reality Project, I had the good fortune to attend climate leadership training. Vice President Al Gore was truly inspiring as our session leader. Active participation in a variety of efforts to address climate change is a very important and rewarding aspect of my life.

I also support the Marin Agricultural Land Trust in northern California. The mission of the organization is to permanently protect local Marin County agricultural land and keep that land in agriculture versus development. They are committed to the relational message between climate change, sustainability, and land protection.

Sarah’s generous spirit doesn’t end there. She recently endowed a UW-Madison scholarship that provides opportunities for students facing financial and other life challenges to study abroad.

I believe it’s important for our future leaders to experience the world beyond our shores, to be fully immersed in other cultures and learn how other countries solve problems. I wasn’t a straight-A student, but I was always curious about the world. When I studied overseas as a college sophomore, the experience changed my life. I am so happy to provide that experience to others, regardless of their course of study or grade-point average.

Thank you to Sarah Perry for her generosity, for sharing her story, and for her legacy of land protection. Supporters like you and Sarah help ensure Wisconsin’s land, water, and wildlife will be protected today, tomorrow, and forever.

If you would like more information about making a planned gift to Gathering Waters through your will or estate, please contact Gathering Waters’ Director of Philanthropy, Creal Zearing at 608-251-9131 ext. 18.

If you’ve already provided for Gathering Waters in your estate plan, please let Creal know. We would like to thank you and recognize your generosity.