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After hiking the woods, fishing the streams or hunting the lowlands in one of Wisconsin's public forests or wildlife management areas, we should pause to thank the forgotten souls who helped preserve these lands for our recreation.

We tend to take such gifts for granted, assuming the properties always have been public. That's seldom true. Many became public property only after one or two people fought their families, friends or business partners to open the lands to strangers for perpetuity.

Public properties aren't our only natural treasures. Many private properties remain pristine and protected because our predecessors wrote laws and administered educational programs to spare them from intentional harm or careless abuse.

Their efforts probably inspired more insults than praise, but they braced themselves and pushed conservation forward. They weren't pursuing popularity, anyway.

Even so, Wisconsin does more than most states to honor its conservation heroes for their vision. And no institution devotes more effort to that cause than the Conservation Hall of Fame in Stevens Point.

Since its creation in 1985, the hall has enshrined 74 citizens who helped ensure Wisconsinites long benefit from the state's natural resources. These folks whether through birth, marriage, education or employment drew inspiration from Wisconsin while protecting its air, land, water, fish and wildlife.

Among the hall's conservation legends are Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Gordon MacQuarrie, Gaylord Nelson, Ernie Swift, Sigurd Olson, Harley McKenzie, Wallace Grange, Owen Gromme, Warren Knowles, Robert McCabe, Harold J. "Bud" Jordahl, Daniel O. Trainer, Carroll D. "Buzz" Besadny, Martin Hanson and Herb Behnke.

This year, four inductees will be honored Saturday when their names are enshrined in the hall of fame at the UW-Stevens Point Schmeeckle Reserve.

William Nobel Clark, 1891-1988

Clark spent much of his career in research administration at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Wisconsin. He was a pioneer in erosion and flood control, as well as an early advocate for wise land use, especially in rural areas.

Clark helped people understand their choices about land and where they live affect not only themselves, but society: "An individual family may be content to exist in some remote, barren locality forcing the state, county and township to maintain a road to their door, a school to educate their children and perhaps if they go onto public relief, to furnish the necessities of life at governmental expense as well but the rest of us may object to footing the bill."

Stanton Mead, 1900-1988

Mead spent more than 40 years at Consolidated Papers in Wisconsin Rapids and moved up the ranks as treasurer, vice president, president and chairman.

Mead believed conservation was smart business, and that science-based management was the key to sustainable forestry. He helped found Trees for Tomorrow in Eagle River, and in 1959 led Consolidated's effort to donate 20,000 acres in Wood, Portage and Marathon counties to the state for what became the Mead Wildlife Area.

In addition to his forestry interests, Mead was active in pollution-abatement programs, flood-control systems for the Wisconsin River and ensuring his company did its part for wildlife conservation. Wisconsin recognized his efforts in 1968 with a special conservation award.

Dorothy (1910-present) and Jacque Vallier (1912-1996)

Conservation philanthropists who among other things donated 960 acres of forestlands northwest of Rhinelander for UWSP's Treehaven research facility. Dorothy Vallier also helped create the 185-acre Schlitz Audubon Center along the Lake Michigan shoreline north of Milwaukee.

The center is located on land once owned by Dorothy Vallier's grandfather. The Schlitz Foundation wanted to develop the property, but Dorothy fought them throughout the 1960s in hopes of preserving the land as an Audubon Society nature center. With help from residents who supported her cause, she prevailed in 1971 when the foundation finally gave in. The Schlitz Audubon Center opened in 1974.

The Hall of Fame induction ceremony begins at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Sentry Insurance Theater. Coffee and rolls will be served at 9 a.m., and a noon luncheon buffet concludes the event. The luncheon requires a reservation and fee.

For information, call (715) 346-4992.

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