Led by Calumet County landowner, Marvin Thiel, a neighborhood comes together in mission during times of social distance to rehabilitate a shared watershed with the help of the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
Marvin Thiel owns 150 acres of land within the township of Stockbridge, straddling Lake Winnebago and Lake Michigan. 60 of those acres are part of the family farm co-owned with his brothers, that have been in Marvin’s family for generations and primarily farmed using conventional methods. Although the Thiel family doesn’t operate the land anymore, Marvin is still dedicated to caring for and restoring the land he grew up on.
Marvin approached the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) with a concern that his waterway was losing capacity and filling in with sediment after every rain event. After an on-site assessment, NRCS staff determined that serious erosion upstream, causing gullies up to six feet in some areas, were cause for the cascading effect. The biggest challenge, was how to address the problem with multiple families and properties involved. While the original Thiel family farm made up the top of the watershed, the land was now owned by five different families. The middle section of the watershed was owned by three different families, while the lower part belonged to Marvin and his wife.
Marvin coordinated both virtual meetings and socially distant discussions in his garage, rallying neighbors from all properties involved. The project also required the assistance of the highway department to install rock for additional erosion and sediment deposition control where the grassed waterways and subsurface drains outlet before going under the highway.
Marvin and his neighbors applied for the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to implement grassed waterways, two water and sediment control basins, grade stabilization structures, mulching, subsurface drains with multiple underground outlets, and stream crossings for farm equipment.
In total, the project involved the implementation of conservation practices on 120 acres of land owned by 3 different entities and 8 different families. The project took about one year from submitting the program application to successfully improving the efficiency of the watershed and eliminating erosion. Joe Smedberg, NRCS District Conservationist at the Chilton Service Center, assisted Marvin and some of his neighbors with the application and funding process. He says, “This was one of the more challenging projects I’ve been involved with, but also one of the more rewarding ones. Working with Marvin was so much fun. His passion for caring for the land is second to none.”
Marvin is very enthusiastic when sharing the success of this collaborative effort between neighbors amidst the pandemic. “This was a major project; we couldn’t have done it without NRCS,” said Martin. He is confident he and his neighbors will be able to maintain the waterways and structures for years to come.