Jun 27, 2019

Promote to protect.

That’s the big idea behind Gateway to The Driftless, a new community nonprofit organization in northwest Dane County promoting the area encompassing the Black Earth Creek watershed and neighboring stretch of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway to a regional audience of residents, visitors, employers and employees for its abundance of year-round outdoor recreational opportunities.

The group has launched a web portal at gatewaytothedriftless.com that features an interactive outdoor recreation map where users can search a wide range of public recreation sites by activity – including fishing, hunting, biking, paddling and camping – or by type of supporting public facilities, such as fishing and boating access, walking and biking trails, and parks and public lands. Each facility on the mobile-friendly Gateway site is fully described and mapped with driving directions.

The website also offers a searchable regional business and shopping directory, local employment opportunities, searchable property listings, and a community outdoor calendar.

“The Driftless area is vast – parts of four states, 22,000 square miles. But we are the only part of this special place that’s on the doorstep of Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago. Our urban proximity gives our communities a real opportunity to build a regional economy around quick and easy access to a wide range of outdoor recreation opportunities close to home for many people,” according to Christopher Long, the Gateway’s executive director.

Launched in spring 2018, the Gateway organization’s regional marketing and promotional efforts are supported by local government, businesses and other nonprofit organizations in Cross Plains, Black Earth and Mazomanie. The project is funded by donors and sponsors who see the area as ideally positioned to become a vibrant “gateway” connecting Dane County’s expanding urban center with the rural lifestyle and diverse natural resources found locally and throughout the Driftless region.

With Dane County now the fastest-growing county in Wisconsin, it is the Gateway organization’s stated mission to support responsible growth and development in northwest Dane and to actively partner in community projects that preserve and enhance the region’s natural resources, regional heritage and quality of life. Corporate sponsors include Vortex Optics and State Bank of Cross Plains.

“This effort is a regional community response to a critical question facing our special corner of the world: what do we want this place to look like in 20 years? We hope promoting economic growth around outdoor recreation and natural resources is the way to protect and preserve those resources moving forward,” Long said.

Historic flooding in August 2018 heavily damaged Wolf Run Trail at Mazomanie, a popular community facility and regional economic asset. Gateway to The Driftless teamed up with Wolf Run Association – another local nonprofit – to organize the repair effort, in partnership with Wisconsin Department of Transportation, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Dane County Land & Water Resources and local community supporters. The trail reopened to the public in late October.

The Gateway organization is actively supporting development of the regional, year-round multi-use recreational trails envisioned from Middleton to Mazomanie and from Mazomanie to Sauk City, connecting there to the Great Sauk Trail, Devil’s Lake State Park and Reedsburg.

“The Northwest Dane part of the Driftless is loved by those of us who live here and by the larger community of outdoor people our project is speaking to. We hope Gateway to The Driftless is an idea whose time has come,” Long said.


Christopher Long is a member of the Southern Wisconsin Trout Unlimited chapter and a board member of Black Earth Creek Watershed Association. For more information about Gateway to The Driftless, contact him at chris@gatewaytothedriftless.com.