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January 16, 2009

Leopold Shack Designated as a National Historic Landmark

The Shack, a re-built chicken coop along the Wisconsin River where the Leopold family stayed during weekend retreats, continues to serve as the heart of the foundation’s programs. Each year, thousands of visitors are inspired in the same landscape that deeply moved Leopold.

The Aldo Leopold Shack and Farm has joined the ranks of some of the most well-known and beloved historic sites in the nation. 

Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne designated nine new National Historic Landmarks on January 16, 2009, and expressed his personal pride that the Leopold Shack and farm was now formally among our country’s most important historic sites.  “The historical and cultural developments reflected by these new National Historic Landmarks is tremendous,” Kempthorne said. “As Secretary of the Interior, I am especially pleased to honor the place at which conservationist Aldo Leopold was inspired to write A Sand County Almanac.”

“The Shack demonstrates the realization of Leopold's land ethic philosophy and his concept of land health,” said Buddy Huffaker, executive director of the Aldo Leopold Foundation.   “It provides a physical representation of Aldo Leopold's concepts about human responsibility toward the land.”

The Shack, a re-built chicken coop along the Wisconsin River where Aldo Leopold and his family stayed during weekend retreats, inspired many of the essays in the conservation classic, A Sand County Almanac. Now recognized as one of the most influential volumes regarding the appropriate relationship between humans and nature, the book articulated Leopold’s call for a “Land Ethic” where humans extend their conception of community to include the water, soil, plants, and animals that support all life.

"The Shack was sort of an example of how you didn't need a palace and all these things surrounding you," said Leopold's daughter, 91-year-old Nina Leopold Bradley. "The general effect was (showing) that you can be very, very happy with very little stuff around you."

Leopold Bradley remembers summer nights in the 1930s and 1940s sitting around a campfire with her father, mother and four siblings, singing songs and strumming a guitar. Days during those weekend getaways were spent planting trees and restoring prairie.

"He didn't tell us this, but he was trying to restore this acreage to what it looked like before white men," Leopold Bradley said.

 “Aldo Leopold has played such a central role in shaping America’s consciousness about the environment that is fitting recognition that this important site has now earned a place on this list,” commented Huffaker.  “We hope the designation will help more people to learn about and appreciate the continued importance Leopold’s legacy has for us today and into the future.”

The National Historic Landmark Program is a project of the National Park Service designed to focus attention on places in the United States that are of exceptional historic value.  The designation recognizes historic sites that allow Americans to learn more about facets of our nation’s history.  While the designation comes from the highest level of the Department of Interior, many of the sites, like the Leopold Shack and farm remain in private ownership.

“From a practical perspective the designation doesn’t change how the Leopold Foundation will manage the property as we are already using the highest standards for historic preservation,” explained Huffaker, “but it does afford us some restricted funding opportunities and most importantly it provides the highest level of credibility available to the site.”

What is a National Historic Landmark?

The National Historic Landmark Program is a project of the National Park Service designed to focus attention on places in the United States that are of exceptional historic value to the nation as a whole. NPS describes these special places:

National Historic Landmarks make tangible the American experience. They are places where nationally significant historical events occurred, that are associated with prominent Americans, that represent those pivotal ideas that shaped the nation, that teach us about our ancient past, or that are premier examples of design or construction. National Historic Landmarks help us to understand nationally significant patterns, movements, and themes in American history, ensuring that the nation's heritage will be accessible to future generations.

There are about 2500 National Historic Landmarks nationwide, and only 39 in Wisconsin.

Why the Shack?

The Shack certainly fits the bill. Aldo Leopold's Shack and Farm has been maintained in a fashion Leopold intended and retains much of the same historic vegetation and landscaping. Most of the property contains mature woodland and restored marsh and prairie, a product of Leopold's intent to re-establish a healthy biotic community on the denuded and deserted farm. Glacial landscape features of the Leopold property and adjacent areas in turn are proximate to alarger system of such features in Wisconsin, many of which are interpreted through the lce Age National Scientific Reserve and connected by the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

The Aldo Leopold Shack and Farm demonstrates the realization of Leopold's land ethic philosophy and his concepts of land health and husbandry. The farm retains remarkable integrity of setting, design, materials, workmanship, location, feeling, and association. Not only has the landscape developed much as Leopold envisioned it but the two buildings on the property, the shack and outbuilding, retain a high degree of integrity owing to their gentle use, appropriate maintenance, retention of original furnishings and setting. This property provides a physical representation of Aldo Leopold's concepts about human responsibility toward the land.