Reflections on a Lifetime of Stewardship,
by Peter Gove


Nelson-Mondale Legacy Award Recipient Remarks by Peter Gove

I am in great company receiving this award with Dan Willius and the late Bill Clapp. Dan was our leader to create the watershed-wide St. Croix River Association now more than 15 years ago. Bill’s incredible career speaks for itself. I think of him when I hike or drive by the Standing Cedars Community Land Conservancy parcels he led the effort to protect. 

I look around this room and see so many people that have made a big difference for this river and watershed over the last 50 years. And I think of several that are no longer with us. I remember when Tia Nelson and Walter Mondale received the Legacy Award named in their honor in May 2019 at the WRC celebration in Shafer. Mary and I drove him to that event, and we cherish that time with him. 

Peter Gove remarks – Nelson Mondale Legacy Award Wild Rivers Conservancy Event, April 21, 2023

Dan was board chair when the organization incorporated as a 501(c)3 and shifted to a basin-based organization that crosses political boundaries to work more effectively for watershed protection and enhancement. He helped recruit a new, bigger board of talented motivated directors. Through Dan’s leadership, a new and inspired mission statement was created, a new strategic plan was developed, and good governance with designated committees, policies and procedures were implemented. He led the work to secure the organizations first fulltime paid staff. Dan was clear on the need to prioritize, focus, deliver and celebrate.

I often think of Mr. Mondale’s admonition that it is the cumulative ‘nicks and cuts’ along the Riverway that can forever change this river landscape. Examples I see around the watershed today include:  

  • too many variances including so-called ‘hardship’ variances. 
  • easement holders ignoring rules on tree removal. 
  • indifference by local officials protecting scenic values and views. DNR inattention to migrating invasive carp. 
  • Disregard by CAFO proponents on how ground and surface waters interact. personal financial gain for developers of riverfront campground and apartment projects. reference a few of the threats the Wild Rivers Conservancy, Park Service and citizens are fighting today along the Namekagon and St. Croix Rivers.

53 years this weekend, a man from Clear Lake, WI -- 40 miles from here -- who had grown up in the St. Croix watershed, was the founder of Earth Day. Governor and Senator Gaylord Nelson’s desire to preserve the St. Croix River was a principal motivation for the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act he and Senator Mondale authored that passed Congress 18 months before the first Earth Day in 1970.  

As Dennis Anderson reminded us in his Strib column today titled Guns and Greens must  come together- “only by working together can conservationists, hunters, and anglers counter the manifold threats to land, water, air, fish, and wildlife.’’ In Minnesota, that ‘guns and greens’ collaboration led to the 2008 Clean Water Land Legacy program, and this legislative session hopefully help will extend the Environmental Trust Fund. Perhaps such collaboration is possible in Wisconsin, despite the legacy of the past gubernatorial administration, to restore the Knowles-Nelson program to support non-profit-led conservation projects. 

Peter Gove delivering Nelson Mondale Legacy Award acceptance remarks at Open Water. Photo: October Yates
Peter Gove delivering Nelson Mondale Legacy Award acceptance remarks at Open Water. Photo: October Yates

Let’s remember what Congress concluded 55 years ago this coming October -- “that certain selected rivers of the Nation …possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values, shall be  preserved in free-flowing condition, and …protected for the benefit and enjoyment of  present and future generations.”  

Important words these days particularly for local government officials in Hudson,  Lakeland, Osceola, St. Croix Falls, and Washburn County; for DNR regional managers; and those commercial interests seeking river access and/or views for a few, contrary to the 1968 and 1972 congressional mandates for public ‘benefit and enjoyment’ of a wild and scenic river experience. 

My appreciation to Deb Ryun and the WRC board for this award. And thanks in advance to all of you here tonight - including our two granddaughters – for what you will continue to do in the years and decades ahead to protect the St. Croix River and  the watershed, support the Wild Rivers Conservancy and the National Park Service - - that Walter Mondale called, “the finest of federal agencies.”

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