Night of Recognition for Marcy West

By Ardith Van Riper

     The Kickapoo Valley Reserve’s Executive Director, Marcy West, resigns after 24 years.  She dedicated those years preserving Wisconsin’s one-of-a-kind natural resources by collaborating with six villages, three counties, a sovereign nation, state agencies, federal agencies, and a board of directors.

     The Kickapoo Valley Reserve (KVR) Board and KVR Friends group sponsored a night of recognition at the beautiful Visitor Center on Thursday, June 17.  Brad Steinmetz emceed the event and introduced guest speakers.

     To set the tone for what Marcy West accomplished, former State Senator Brian Rude provided a brief history of the KVR.  Ten years after the La Farge Lake and Dam project was halted, there was a gaping wound.  Family farms were destroyed, schools lost students, businesses lost business, and legal limbo.  People felt betrayed and were angry.  The majority of local people called to finish the dam, but that wasn’t happening.  So a citizen’s project was launched to find an alternative.

     Long story short, the project resulted in a concept of a state-owned but locally managed reserve with benefits of state attachments and public ownership and access.  The Executive Director position was created. The candidate had to possess abilities in governance, be a manager, consensus builder, politically well connected, willing to work long hours, and the person had to create a position out of nothing.  This person had to work with board members, Friends group, local lawmakers, citizens, political leaders, and the Ho-Chunk Nation.

     “Marcy West was the glue that held all this together and made it work,” said Rude.

     West has been the property’s executive director throughout its history.  

     The emcee announced former Representative Lee Harrison and former State Senator Jennifer Shilling were in attendance and worked on multiple projects with Marcy West. 

     Representatives from Congressman Ron Kind’s office spoke next by reading a letter from Congressman Kind and sharing their working relationship experience with Marcy West.

     State Senator Brad Pfaff and State Representative Loren Oldenburg shared some words and presented a citation to Marcy West celebrating and showing gratitude for her service.

     President Marlon White Eagle spoke a bit about the history of KVR and the Ho-Chunk Nation.  He mentioned Ritchie Brown played a role in establishing the Memorandum of Understanding.  Tina Brown, Bill Quackenbush, and Adlai J. Mann were all in attendance and serve on the KVR board.  Ardith Van Riper is the HCN’s current Editor and worked on the original land survey that aided the Nation in deciding which lands they wanted to be transferred. President White Eagle, with the assistance of Tina Brown, presented a star quilt to Marcy West.

     Village of La Farge President Cheryl Purvis spoke about the last decade Marcy worked with the community.  Purvis listed grants that were awarded as a result of Marcy’s work.

The KVR Board’s current president, Richard Wallin, and first president, Ron Johnson, spoke next.  Together they presented Marcy West with an honoree lifetime membership certificate.

     “One thing that nobody has said - this building (The Visitor Center) would not have been here, financially, if Marcy hadn’t worked with the feds,” said Johnson.

     The Visitor Center is located 1.5 miles north of La Farge on highway 131.  The 8,300 square feet building was completed in 2004.  A 2,000 square foot exhibit features interactive displays where visitors can learn about the reserve.  Construction of the Visitor Center totaled 2.5 million dollars and is available for a fee to the public for meetings, special events, educational workshops, seminars, weddings, family reunions, and guided tours.

     The KVR Friends group president Tom Miron presented Marcy with a lifetime member certificate.

     Brad Steinmetz read a certificate of accommodation to Marcy West from Governor Tony Evers.

     The guest of honor closed out the evening speeches.  Marcy West acknowledged that she had a role to play and that she did not do it alone.  She thanked her husband Dave and mentioned their children, Andy and Keagan.

     “Rex Whitegull first taught, told me that working with the Ho-Chunk Nation was learning patience.  A couple of very wise people after that told me we will also work to look seven generations out.  I absolutely love that theory,” explained Marcy West.  “The property is so special and takes vigilance to keep it that way.”

     The Kickapoo Valley Reserve is made up of 8,600 acres between La Farge and Ontario in Vernon County.  The Bureau of Indian Affairs holds 1,200 acres in trust for the Ho-Chunk Nation and the remaining 7,400 acres transferred to the State of Wisconsin.

     Congress authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a flood control dam in the 1962 Flood Control Act.  The Corps purchased the land, removed houses and buildings, and began constructing a large dam across the valley floor.  Approximately 149 farms were purchased.  Economic and environmental concerns were raised in the late 1960s and 1970s, causing the dam project to stop in 1975.  After that, nature gradually reclaimed the area.

     Congress then passed the 1996 Water Resources Development Act that directed the Corps to return up to 1,200 acres to the Ho-Chunk Nation and the rest to the State of Wisconsin.  The act also required the State of Wisconsin and the Ho-Chunk Nation to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding specifying which lands would go into trust and how the two entities would jointly manage the property.  Additionally, the act required the lands to be preserved in a natural state and only be developed for outdoor recreation and educational opportunities. 

     “Never forget the long history,” said Marcy West.  “Now it is time to look ahead.  It (the Reserve) is in very good hands.

     “We have an awesome board of directors. We have an awesome Friends group.  We have an awesome staff. 

     “I hope you will continue to be involved and supportive.  Please give the staff a hand every once in a while.”