Jens Jensen – founder of The Clearing and integral in creating The Ridges Sanctuary – will receive a long-overdue honor April 25. That’s when he’ll be inducted posthumously into the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame (WCHF) at the Atrium at SentryWorld in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.
The Danish-born Jensen (1860-1951) was a landscape architect who developed public parks, preserves and private estates. Well ahead of his time, he was one of the first landscape architects to incorporate native plants and the location’s existing ecological, topographical and geographic features into his designs. He was also a tireless advocate for the conservation of natural heritage.
Aesthetics in his work always came second to protecting nature. Through his vocation and avocation, his aim was to bring people and nature together. Upon his death, the New York Times called him the “Dean of American Landscape Architecture.”
The Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame was established in 1985 to showcase the conservation legacy of the state. Inductees have made valuable contributions to conservation throughout their professional and private lives. Stephen Born and Stanley Temple will join Jensen as fellow inductees in April.
“Wisconsin is proud of its conservation heritage, which makes it even more significant and exciting that we are reaching a milestone of our 100th inductee this year,” said WCHF’s president, Patty Dreier.
Jensen began working for the City of Chicago in the 1880s, rising through the ranks from park laborer to superintendent and landscape architect of the city’s Western Parks District. He was instrumental in developing a plan for parks throughout Chicago and in establishing the Cook County Forest Preserve – a collection of dozens of wetlands, forests and prairies throughout greater Chicago.
In 1913, Jensen initiated Friends of Our Native Landscape, recruiting members and support from his society friends and connections. Aldo Leopold was a prominent member of the Wisconsin Chapter. The Friends was the first significant private organization in the Midwest dedicated to conservation, and one of its first efforts was helping to protect the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore along the southern shore of Lake Michigan.
After 1920, when his city position was eliminated, Jensen focused his work around his private practice and started vacationing in Door County. He lived full time in Door County from 1935 until his death in 1951. Here he zealously continued his advocacy for protecting natural areas. He was a principal proponent of The Ridges Sanctuary, Cave Point County Park, Whitefish Dunes State Park and Ellison Bluff County Park, among others.
At The Clearing, he aimed to immerse people in nature for “spiritual renewal.” Though The Clearing was initially intended for landscape-architecture students, he expanded its scope to include the public. Thousands have since attended short courses at The Clearing, now a nonprofit school where Jensen’s philosophy of working with nature is the pervasive theme.
“Unlike other landscape architects of the period, Jensen was not content to create works of art for society’s elite,” said William Tishler. Instead, Jensen was concerned with improving the American environment in general, and thereby improving its people and culture.”