The Leopold Family Shack & Farm
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.
The land surrounding the Shack and farm provides a living classroom for exploring dynamic ecological relationships. Each year, thousands of visitors are inspired through tours, seminars, and workshops in the same landscape that deeply moved Leopold.
A Revolutionary Experiment
In the winter of 1935, Aldo Leopold went down a two-track sand road in search of land for a family hunting camp. Alongside the Wisconsin River, he found a “worn out” farm available for eight dollars per acre.
Running counter to all cultural currents, he bought the bleak, windswept place rather than seeking out richer land some where else. The decision proved pivotal to Leopold’s family, his relationship to the land, and the millions of readers since inspired by A Sand County Almanac.
Did Leopold realize the abandoned farm’s potential from the outset? No one knows for certain, but soon the family embraced the farm as a new kind of workshop or laboratory—a place to tinker and experiment with restoring health to an ailing piece of land. It was the sort of land common to a nation long obsessed with homesteading and suddenly stricken with the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, twin specters of economic and natural catastrophe that shook the United States in the 1930s.
During weekends and breaks from school, Leopold, his wife Estella and their five children lived close to the land. Fixing up a dilapidated chicken coop, they created a home away from home which came to be known as “the Shack.” They tended a garden, cut firewood, and planted trees—eventually, some 40,000.
Doomed by Dust Bowl droughts, more than 95 percent of the pines died in the early years. Yet the family persevered, and spring planting at the farm became a rite of spring. Thousands of pines and other plantings eventually thrived, transforming the landscape into a mosaic of conifers, hardwoods, and prairie.