Three Waters Reserve Conservation Easement Closing

Press Release: Conservation Easement Finalized on Former Golf Course, Ensuring Protection for the Future 


Brodhead, WI, March 14, 2023 – The Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC) and the Southern Wisconsin Land Conservancy (SWLC) have partnered to protect 32 acres of restored native landscape in eastern Green County, WI. The property is a portion of the former 57-acre front nine of the Decatur Lake Golf Course which operated for nearly a century from 1926-2018. This 32 acre parcel, along with 25 acres protected earlier in 2020, is called Three Waters Reserve. As of March 1, 2023, the conservation easement (held by DALC and donated by landowner SWLC) has been finalized, ensuring the land’s protection for future generations. 

Prairie restoration at Three Waters Reserve
Pictured: Former golf course fairways give way to beautiful blooming wildflowers on the prairie restoration site at Three Waters Reserve (mid July, 2022)

Madison resident Mary Odell, couldn’t be happier about this important conservation milestone for her family's former land. Odell comments: 

“I am thrilled to know that the land will be protected from development for all time. The property has a fascinating history and was so deeply cherished by my family. A big thank you to everyone who took Three Waters Reserve from a vision to reality: The Southern Wisconsin Land Conservancy and my brother, who was the first to put his 7-acre parcel under a conservation easement before his passing in 2021.”

Mary and her brother Ted Odell – who invented the iconic Guerrilla Cookie in a rustic cabin on the property in the 1960s – retained a 14 acre parcel of their family land throughout the various transfers of ownership. Both Mary and Ted recently donated their property to the reserve. 

Ted Odell's Cabin at Three Waters Reserve, where the famous Guerrilla Cookie was invented in the 1960s
Pictured: Ted Odell's former cabin and bakery (Quercus Alba), where he invented and produced his first batch of famous Guerilla Cookies in the 1960s.

When the golf course was put on the market in 2017, six local philanthropists (who would later form SWLC) recognized its value for conservation. The property, managed for decades with chemical fertilizers and pesticides, is situated on the banks of a scenic reach of the Sugar River in a watershed that is largely agricultural, making any remaining natural and restored fragments critical to protect – cleaner water, improved soil health, flood attenuation, increased wildlife and spaces to enjoy nature being just a few of the benefits. The diverse range of soil types and forested and grassland habitats on the property also make it an important area for biodiversity, particularly for birds and several rare and uncommon plant species.

Purple fringed orchid Three Waters Reserve
Pictured: Stunning purple-fringed orchid found on the the property in summer of 2022. 

Conservation easements give farmers and other private landowners an incentive (via significant tax deductions) to protect both valuable working and natural landscapes from losses due to development. From the community perspective, easements can also expand recreational and educational opportunities. The former golf club house and pro shop at Three Waters Reserve, for example, have been refurbished to serve as an event center and field station for watershed research and education. The nature trails on the property, formerly asphalt cart paths, are now enjoyed by the public free of charge for wildlife viewing, hiking, photography and other passive recreation. 

Conservation Easement closing document

 The event center is currently accepting reservations for gatherings like educational workshops, non-profit and corporate meetings and retreats, celebrations, fundraisers and microweddings – with all proceeds from venue rentals going toward continued conservation efforts on the property and in Southern Wisconsin. Additionally, the in-house catering operation led by former SSM Health Executive Chef, John Marks, incorporates farm-to-table ingredients and locally-sourced meats into event menus and culinary events, encouraging guests to make the critical connection between the land, our food and our health. 

korean braised short ribs three waters reserve valentines chef's table
Pictured: The memorable main course, Korean-braised Short Ribs, from Three Waters Reserve's recent Valentines Chef's Table. 

Future plans for Three Waters Reserve include continued restoration efforts on the land, attractive ADA-accessible natural landscaping around the event center, upcoming foraging and naturopathy workshops, a free community Easter event (4/2) and an educational Lunch & Learn series on important conservation topics. 

To learn more about sustainable business models like Three Waters Reserve or how conservation easements could benefit your property, contact Southern Wisconsin Land Conservancy at To learn more about upcoming events and workshops at Three Waters Reserve, head to the events calendar.

About Three Waters Reserve 

Owned by Southern Wisconsin Land Conservancy, Three Waters Reserve is a 70-acre nature reserve located on the scenic Sugar River near Brodhead WI.  Restored lands and facilities of the former nine-hole golf course now serve as an event center and field station for watershed research and education. Community-building at Three Waters Reserve aims to restore the connection between the land, our food and human health through purposeful events and education with mission-aligned partners. 

About Southern Wisconsin Land Conservancy (SWLC) 

Southern Wisconsin Land Conservancy is a charitable land trust dedicated to protecting the wild and working lands of Southern Wisconsin. SWLC seeks to restore and manage worthy conservation lands, culturally important lands, and lands that can provide increased water quality and habitat, while assisting other landowners who seek to do the same. 

conservation easement sign 'protected for all time' at three waters reserve  

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