Octogenarian Protects Her Land for the Future

Ahnapee headwaters now in a conservation easement

Nature lover, dog trainer, hunter and energetic octogenarian Patricia Nell didn’t want to see her land or the waters downstream from it spoiled, but as she grew older, she said, it became “harder and harder to take care of land like this.”

Nell, 87, said that until a couple of years ago, she didn’t know there was a way to maintain ownership of the land while ensuring that it’s protected from development after she’s gone. On Dec. 12, Nell signed documents granting the Door County Land Trust a conservation easement on her 157-acre property south of Sturgeon Bay in the Town of Nasewaupee.

“This is a way to protect land, for whatever reason there is,” she said.

Patricia Nell poses with The Queen’s Heir Charles (“Charlie”) after one of the dog’s recent wins in field trials. Nell trained her Labs on the 160 acres in southern Door County that she wants to see protected from development after she’s gone. Submitted.

The Land Trust does not assume ownership of the land, but it has permanent access for conservation practices and protection of the site.

With quarrying taking place nearby and more and more demand for recreational, commercial and residential land, Nell said she wanted to ensure that her nearly 160 acres were never divided up and spoiled. In addition, she said she did not want to see anything disturb the headwaters of the Ahnapee River. 

Nell also said she wants someone to help her watch out for the land, making sure that water-pumping operations at a nearby quarry don’t lower water levels in her wetland and flood neighbors’ yards.

Although Nell’s woodlands and wetland sit just a couple of miles from the waters of Green Bay, a small creek on the property drains toward the river that leads to Lake Michigan and Algoma.

Nell said she’s witnessed surrounding land all around Nasewaupee getting divided into small plots, and she doesn’t think that’s good for plants, animals or hunters.

“Ten-acre plots are useless,” she said. “It just allows for uncontrolled development.”

Nell also said that small parcels aren’t good because hunting on them brings about the possibility to “shoot your neighbors’ windows out.”

Sometimes the Door County Land Trust protects land because of the land’s unspoiled, pristine conditions and/or the rare plants and animals that live on it. The value this time included the large size of the property and its key location in the watershed. The Land Trust said in a press release that Nell’s gift will ensure that the land and surrounding wetlands will forever continue to slow down water runoff and filter sediments and nutrients before they enter the river.

“The headwaters will be protected in perpetuity, keeping water-quality protection as a top conservation focus for the Land Trust in Southern Door,” said Drew Reinke, manager of the conservation-easement program.

Until 1990, Algoma Hardwoods Lumber owned the patchwork of 20- and 40-acre parcels that became Nell’s land. She still enjoys using the property for hunting and training her Labrador retrievers for field trials and “hunt tests.”

“My husband and I, Lewis E. Gibson [M.D.], we bought it so we could hunt on it and use it for training of the dogs,” she said.

Nell said she also loves simply sitting out there in the woods, enjoying the peace and nature.

Some of the site was farmland at one time, but, she said, “no farmer was ever successful” on it. Algoma Lumber planted various coniferous trees on a portion of the land, Nell said, with the intent to cut Christmas trees. Most of those have matured now, adding year-round greenery to the woodlands and enhancing the habitat for songbirds, some game birds, fox, deer, turkey and the rest of the wildlife on the property.

The Land Trust is also working to protect more land in Southern Door, including 100 acres near Brussels. At times, the Land Trust acquires property through fundraising and grants, and at other times, through direct donation. Last year, it completed a deal to protect a half-mile stretch of Stony Creek – another stream that drains toward the lake.

In the case of the Nell land, the Land Trust doesn’t own the property. Conservation-easement lands remain privately owned, and the Land Trust’s efforts to enforce and maintain permanent land protections are supported by contributions from members and the community.Learn more at

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