The Nelson Institute's Doris Duke Conservation Fellows organized a day at Aldo Leopold's Shack near Baraboo, WI. It was an opportunity to explore the grounds of the shack and the new Legacy Center with a guided tour. We also intended on volunteering for collecting seeds of prairie grasses to aid in the Leopold Legacy Foundation's efforts to install more prairie species at the Legacy Center. Our volunteer work was deterred by the day's steady rain. Instead of working, we were able to take an in depth and unique look at the entire at the Legacy center and the shack!
Overall, 17 people volunteered to come out to help and learn more about Leopold's legacy. We started by cramming into the small shack, which was used as a chicken coop prior to Leopold purchasing the farm, to hear stories about the family, their first experiences on the farm, and the family's continuing efforts to promote the 'Land Ethic'.
The tour guide led us around the site showing us photos of the Leopold farm during the early 1900s. The guide also showed several photos of the family hanging out on the farm, planting trees, or building things around the shack itself. I learned many things about the site which I had not known about such as the owners of the property before he bought it and the way in which he acquired the property. Here she explains what happened to the old farm house that stood here before the government foreclosed on the property due to back taxes. Apparently, Leopold bought the farm as a 'vacation spot' for only $8.00 an acre!
Our guide even took the opportunity to show us important sites which were referenced in the book. She took the opportunity to read her favorite passages about the sites and talk about the continuing influence that Leopold has today on the modern conservation movement.
For those who admire Leopold's work, standing among the pines he planted nearly 70 years ago is a religious experience.
Visiting the Legacy Center is also a wonderful experience. The building complex is LEED Platinum and was built from pines and hardwood harvested on the farm or the adjacent land. The complex utilizes several innovative building techniques which utilize solar power for electricity. The site also uses geothermal for all of its HVAC! The computers in the architecture monitor the usage of the building and its effectiveness toward employing all of these green materials and building practices to achieving the goals of being self-sustaining.
The rafters in many of the buildings were constructed of trees that were trimmed out of the Leopold farm to thin the tree canopy. This meant that the whole forest could be more healthy and the larger, healthier trees could have more growing room. We were told that the beams were not squared off because this limited the strength of the wood.
We had the unique chance to see the basement of the Legacy Center. The basement houses all of the technology which makes the building so advanced. It felt like we were walking into a science lab!
These tubes of water are used to circulate water through the vertical geothermal field. Water can be directed to flow a specific direction to heat or cool the building. Also, a horizontal geothermal field provided all of the air circulation in the building. This system uses only natural air circulation to move air into and out of the building.
Here the tour guide shows us the monitors where the staff keeps tabs on the solar panels. These computers track the usage and output of the panels. An inverter also converts the power from DC to AC so it can be used by standard devices and put back onto the grid. Other monitoring systems can tell the staff which power outlets are used the most and where they can be losing efficiency. The building can also adjust its HVAC by occupancy using CO2 monitors to determine how many people are in the building and each specific room. Talk about a smart building!
Here I am standing behind the Legacy Center next to the rain garden which catches the roof runoff of all the buildings. Also behind me is the prairie in which the geothermal field sits. You can see the solar panels on top of the main building.
We end the day a bit more knowledgeable about Leopold's legacy and the practices modern day conservationists employ today. I am very appreciative of the Nelson Institute for sponsoring and the Doris Duke Conservation Fellows for organizing such an event. They provided us all lunch and a copy of Leopold's A Sand County Almanac.