Lawrence, Door County Land Trust sign conservation easement agreement to preserve 305 acres of Björklunden property

Mark Breseman was an 18-year-old college student who had just completed his freshman year at Lawrence University when he first discovered the beauty of Björklunden, a then-pristine 325-acre parcel of lakeside Door County that had been bequeathed to the Appleton college in 1963. It was the summer of 1975 and Breseman was hired as the property’s first student “grunt” to help the groundskeeper with general maintenance.A photo of the Björklunden sign.

“I was completely enthralled with the place,” said Breseman. “I would spend off-work hours walking the trail along the Lake Michigan shore, going up in to the fields to sit in the trees or on the rocks along the lakeshore just enveloped by its sense of pure tranquility. Björklunden left an indelible imprint on me.”

Fast forward 41 years and Breseman is excited about creating similar touchstone moments for future generations of Lawrence students. Since 1997, when he returned to his alma mater as director of Björklunden, Breseman has served as Lawrence’s chief steward and cheerleader of the estate, which has grown to 441 acres since he first stepped foot on it.

He also has been at the forefront of efforts to preserve and protect the natural beauty and ecological integrity of the property that culminated Nov. 17 with a grant of conservation easement signing ceremony at the Björklunden lodge between Lawrence officials and Door County Land Trust representatives. The agreement secures 305 acres of the estate from future development that would degrade the conservation values described in the terms of the agreement.

“My dream has long been to have as much of the Björklunden property put in conservation easement as possible so it would never be sold for development,” said Breseman. “The agreement sends a clear message to the Door County community that Lawrence is not going anywhere. We’re going to be here forever and keep this wonderful property in its beautiful, natural state.”

Representing 10 percent of the DCLT’s total conservation easement acreage, the Björklunden easement is the organization’s 70th protected parcel and its largest in the past five years. It includes the most shoreline of any of its conservation easements.

A photo of Lake Michigan shoreline at Björklunden in the summer.
Approximately one-half mile of Lake Michigan shoreline will be included in the Björklunden conservation easement agreement. Photo by Dan Eggert.

The one-time summer retreat of Donald and Winifred Boynton of Highland Park, Ill., Björklunden vid Sjön — Swedish for “Birch Grove by the Lake” — was bequeathed to Lawrence in 1963 by the Boyntons with the understanding that it would be preserved in a way that would ensure its legacy as a place of peace and contemplation. Winifred Boynton referred to her beloved summer residence as a place “far removed from confusion and aggression, it offers a sanctuary for all.”

“Our agreement to preserve natural habitat at Bjorklunden underscores our commitment to Donald and Winifred Boynton who generously gave us these lands close to 50 years ago,” said Mark Burstein, president of Lawrence University. “We are grateful for the partnership we have established with the Door County Land Trust which makes this agreement possible.”

A visionary group of leaders from Lawrence, Björklunden and the Door County Land Trust planted a seed a decade ago about protecting part of the property.

“Now that seed has come to fruition with Lawrence entering into a conservation easement with DCLT to forever protect 305 acres of the Björklunden property from future development or subdivision,” said Terrie Cooper, Door County Land Trust’s director of land programs.

“Our agreement to preserve natural habitat at Bjorklunden underscores our commitment to Donald and Winifred Boynton who generously gave us these lands close to 50 years ago.
     — Lawrence President Mark Burstein

“Björklunden’s conservation easement protects in perpetuity more than one-half mile of Lake Michigan shoreline, boreal forest, migratory bird habitat and wildlife habitat, and an expanse of open space along Hwy 57 south of Baileys Harbor,” Cooper added. “The partnership with Björklunden sets a precedent for other conservation-minded organizations and is such a gift to the Door County community and future generations. The Door County Land Trust is honored to assist Björklunden and Lawrence in realizing their vision and upholding forever the terms of their conservation easement.”

Michael Cisler, a member of the Lawrence Board of Trustees and chair of its buildings and grounds committee, said the easement agreement between Lawrence and the DCLT ensures Björklunden “will always be the sylvan setting that the Boyntons treasured.”

“The easement also connects Lawrence to the larger Door County community with a shared commitment to the conservation of our natural resources, the preservation of our cultural past and a responsibility for a sustainable future,” Cisler added. “The arrangement secures wild spaces that will forever be a valuable part of the quality of life and appeal of Northeast Wisconsin.”

A photo of Lake Trail at Björklunden.
Björklunden is home to one of the most southern extents of boreal forest in Wisconsin. Photo by Dan Eggert.

According to Drew Reinke, land protection specialist for the DCLT, the protected property contains a variety of habitat types resulting from Lake Michigan’s influence.

“A long list of terrestrial species inhabits the property and the shoreline serves as critical stopover habitat for migratory birds,” said Reinke. “Its forest is one of the most southern extents of boreal forest in Wisconsin with mature to near old growth characteristics. This large tract of land can easily be identified by boaters on Lake Michigan as it is the largest block of forest just south of Baileys Harbor with no development.”

Lawrence has conducted an adult, non-credit summer seminar program at Björklunden since 1980. The construction of a new lodge in 1996 opened up the property to additional weekend seminars for Lawrence students. During the 2015-16 academic year, nearly 2,000 Lawrence students, faculty, staff and guests participated in a weekend seminar.  Bjorklunden is also a popular destination for weddings, retreats and business meetings.

Stephanie Vrabec, a member of Lawrence’s Board of Trustees and current president of the board of the Northeast Wisconsin Land Trust, said protecting the property in its natural condition provides unique open space to support Lawrence’s educational mission.

“The Björklunden property is a place where students can ‘retreat’ to learn and grow,” said Vrabec. “It is a working laboratory space for those who gain inspiration and learning from nature. Setting aside conservation land of this significance shows a commitment to long-term environmental sustainability.”

A land trust provides the most common way to protect the conservation values of private land. With approximately 5,000 acres nationally lost to development every day, Vrabec says the establishment of the Björklunden conservation easement “is the right thing to do.”

“Beside preserving the property in a natural state forever, the benefits of conservation lands extend beyond the property boundaries,” said Vrabec. “This agreement underscores our commitment to honor the intentions of the Boyntons and demonstrates our commitment to protect Door County’s incredible natural history and unique environmental quality.”

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.”  Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.