Over the past two decades, Ozaukee and Washington Counties have been among the fastest growing counties in the state of Wisconsin. Since 1990, the population of the region has increased from about 165,000 to almost 200,000. Once a landscape of family farms and small, self-sustaining communities, Ozaukee and Washington Counties are now hubs of major residential, commercial and industrial activity. Interstate 43, US 45 and other major roads link the region's cities, villages and towns with downtown Milwaukee and surrounding urban centers.
While growth has brought economic prosperity and a higher standard of living, it has also impacted the region in some deleterious ways. Urban sprawl has resulted in a loss of wetlands, woodlands and wildlife habitat. The costs of public services, such as road maintenance, police and fire protection and schools, have increased. Agriculture, a major economic force in Ozaukee and Washington Counties, has also been affected. High land values and non-farm development coupled with low commodity prices have contributed to a loss of our agricultural heritage.
Some of the impacts of sprawl and unplanned growth go beyond the physical transformation of the landscape and touch deeper more personal cords. The loss of rural character and "sense of place" are inevitable consequences, as are opportunities for future generations to work in farming, to camp or fish close to home, or to go for a drive or bike ride in the "country".
The Ozaukee Washington Land Trust was founded in 1992 by a group of Ozaukee County residents concerned about the negative affects of growth and the rapid loss of our natural areas and open spaces. Between 1992 and 1997, the Land Trust worked exclusively in Ozaukee County.
This geographic focus changed, however, in mid-1997 when the Land Trust was approached by several landowners from Washington County about preservation of their property. At the same time, support within Washington County was growing for a countywide land preservation group. This interest resulted in several meetings between board members of the Land Trust and community leaders from Washington County. After considerable discussion, the groups decide to join forces and create a regional land trust serving Washington and Ozaukee Counties. In July 1998, the Land Trust officially changed its name and added board members and advisors from Washington County.
The Ozaukee Washington Land Trust offers services to property owners and communities throughout Ozaukee and Washington Counties in the areas of land conservation, education and stewardship. Since 1992, more than 6,200 acres of forests, wetlands and open space have been protected through acquisition and conservation easements.
The Ozaukee Washington Land Trust is well regarded for its conservation work. Gathering Waters, Inc., the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, Ozaukee and Washington County Land Conservation Departments and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources all support and endorse the preservation work of the Land Trust. The Ozaukee Washington Land Trust is a sponsor of Gathering Waters and the Land Trust Alliance, and a member of the Ulao Creek Partnership and the Milwaukee River Land and Water Partner Team.