PRAIRIE DU SAC — Thanks to the generosity of numerous donors, businesses and organizations, Ferry Bluff State Natural Area now has an additional 31 acres to provide continued sanctuary for the area’s tremendous bald eagle population.

Members of Groundswell Conservancy, Madison, and Ferry Bluff Eagle Council, Sauk City, along with members of the community, recently celebrated the addition with a program on the newly acquired land along the Wisconsin River, located on Huerth Road on the south side of Ferry Bluff.

“Some of the biggest roosts are on this land,” said Jim Welsh, executive director of Groundswell Conservancy. “We worked together to keep it as open space to allow the eagles to feel confident roosting there for years to come.”

About two years ago, the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council was approached by the community about a piece of property for sale between two designated state natural areas. The property was owned by a former Ferry Bluff Eagle Council member, and he gave Gene Unger, president of the council, the opportunity for the council to raise funds to purchase it.

Teaming up with Groundswell Conservancy, the organizations applied for a grant from the State of Wisconsin Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, created in 1989 to preserve valuable natural areas and wildlife habitat. The organizations were awarded $85,000 through the grant, half of what was needed to purchase the 31-acre property.

Unger wasn’t sure what kind of reception he’d get from the community when it came to fundraising the remaining $85,000; however, he was pleasantly surprised when individuals, businesses and organizations came together to raise the rest over a five-month period. Seventy-five donors gave to the cause, with the names of large donors etched onto a plaque erected on the new property.

Ferry Bluff is a pivotal base for bald eagles, with the dam at Prairie du Sac keeping the river ice-free while the remainder of the Wisconsin River is frozen, providing food opportunities for the eagles during winter roosting. Several viewing areas have been established in the Sauk Prairie area, with the Overlook in Prairie du Sac serving as one of the best areas for visitors to view bald eagles.

Unger gives credit to the community for taking ownership of the bald eagles that roost near their town.

“The area is now protected as a state natural area,” Unger said. “Adding this land frees it up from the pressure of development, protecting it forever for the birds that live here.”

Just a short commute from Madison, Unger predicts the Sauk Prairie area will become a bedroom community in the next 20 to 30 years, which is why it’s even more important for the council to make sure the current eagle roosting land is preserved.

“We have a big number of eagles there and the eagles are a success story,” he said. “I’m happy to participate and make this happen, serving as a connection between nature and the public.”

The land, jointly purchased by the two organizations, will be donated to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which owns and cares for the state’s designated natural areas. The department has talked about adding a small parking area on the south side of the property and general hiking trails may also be added to enhance the area in the future. Some farmland included on the 31-acre parcel may also be planted back to native prairie, and trees may be planted in open areas, Unger said.

With more than 20 years of data from the eagles roosting in the Sauk Prairie area, the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council continues its mission to protect, maintain and enhance bald eagle habitat through education, research and management activities, including its popular Bald Eagle Watching Days, held each winter.

“We’ll continue to work to preserve land in the right places for the right reasons,” Unger said.