Pope Farm Conservancy: Where Agriculture and Ecological Restoration Work Together for Sustainable Land Use

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Pope Farm Conservancy looking north towards Blackhawk Road from the ridge top in the northeast corner of the property.  Notice the prairie plantings on either side of the mowed grassy path.

Pope Farm Conservancy is owned by the Town of Middleton, Wisconsin, near Madison in Dane County, Wisconsin.  It is a working farm and ecological restoration project on the eastern edge of the Driftless Area (un-glaciated portion) of southwestern Wisconsin.  In 2018, in addition to seven row crops, the Conservancy also grows prairie and other native plant communities among six different restoration projects.

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At the bottom of the same slope shown above, looking south.  Hard to believe,  because of the lack of erosion and bare soil, but this is actually a storm water channel for the Pope Farm Conservancy.

Pope Farm Conservancy seems to me to be a model of sustainable and land use in general and of wise agriculture land use, in particular.  It is one of the few exemplary cases, that I know of,  in which agriculture and ecological restoration co-exist in harmony and work toward their mutual benefit on the same piece of land.

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The 1938 CCC Spillway leading into the storm water channel shown in the photo above.  The Civilian Conservation Corps, from the Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin Camp, built this spillway 80 years ago.  It is still functioning and intact.

One point of emphasis for the Pope Farm Conservancy is preventing soil loss through wind and water erosion.  The 1938 CCC Spillway is the centerpiece of this land use philosophy and is a model of storm water management best practices.

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The terrain is steep.  The 105 acre Pope Farm Conservancy sits atop three recessional moraines and straddles the point where three different watersheds come together.  Looking south across the agricultural fields.

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View of the surroundings from the top of the recessional moraines.

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Pope Farm Conservancy invites visitors and provides 7 miles of hiking trails. To learn more about Pope Farm Conservancy, click here.

Posted in Ecological restoration, Pope Farm Conservancy, Restoration ecology, Stormwater best management practices | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Shake the Lake. Contaminate the Lake.

Fireworks displays, like Madison’s “Shake the Lake” are spectacular.  But, what chemicals are in fireworks?  How might they impact our air, land, and water?

This Saturday June 23, 2018 from 5-11 pm Madison, WI will stage its annual fireworks festival.  This year, as is has for the past several years, Madison’s fireworks organizers will have the pyrotechnics launched from a barge in the middle of Lake Monona.  This setting provides for easy viewing for those near and far.  Observers can watch from the nearby Monona Terrace, the Capitol Square, or from parks and residences around Lake Monona.

Previously known as Rhythm and Booms, the Madison fireworks festivals have had several different sponsoring groups and bounced around various land-based locations: Elver Park on the west side, Warner Park on the north side and, for the past few years, this annual display of patriotism has been staged on Lake Monona (one of the City’s four lakes) and hence is known as “Shake the Lake”.

The fireworks show is usually held just before the July 4th holiday so as to not compete with the many small community fireworks shows in the Dane County area.   “Shake the Lake” is sponsored by a variety of organizations:  Festival Foods, Madison Mallards (a minor league baseball team), one winery, seven breweries and/or brew pubs, a dentistry service, ands Group Health Cooperative, among others.

“Shake the Lake” is an afternoon-into-evening  event with food vendors, music, and a human cannonball launched into Lake Monona, all culminating with the fireworks show.

Ecological Condition of Madison’s Lakes

Madison justifiably takes pride in its five major lakes. They are a matter of civic pride. The City straddles a narrow isthmus between two of these lakes:  Lake Monona and the larger Lake Mendota.  The other lakes are Waubesa, Wingra, and Kegonsa.  The lakes provide Madison with a beautiful setting with lots of recreational opportunities such as running, biking, boating and swimming.

But over the past dozen years, or so, Madison lakes have been suffering from blue-green algae blooms, largely due to storm water runoff from homes, commercial properties, roads, and farms. This runoff is loaded with sediment and nutrients, especially phosphorous.  Cyanobacteria blooms can release toxins that are harmful to people and pets.  Already in the spring of 2018 several Madison beaches have been temporarily closed because of cyanobacteria blooms.  If you want to learn more about blue-green algae, click here to view a primer from the Clean Lakes Alliance.

The Madison lakes also suffer from infestations of Zebra mussels, and spiny waterless, invaders that are wreaking havoc with lake ecology.

Chemical Constituents of Fireworks

What chemicals are found in fireworks?  According to the evidence, quire a few contaminates that we don’t want in our air, land, or water.

According to a legal brief filed on behalf of the San Diego, California Water Quality board in 2011 (https://ecocerf.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/water-and-air-quality-summary-and-exhibits.pdf )

filed as part of its federal storm water permit application:

typical constituents . . . “include, but are not limited to, aluminum, antimony, barium, carbon, calcium, chlorine, cesium, copper, iron, potassium, lithium, magnesium, oxidizers including nitrates, chlorates and perchlorates, phosphorus, sodium sulfur, strontium, titanium, and zinc. The chemical constituents burn at high temperatures when the firework is detonated which promotes incineration. The chemical constituents within the fireworks are scattered by the burst charge which separates them from the fireworks casing and internal shell components. A firework combustion residue is produced in the form of smoke, airborne particulates, chemical pollutants, and debris including paper, cardboard, wires and fuses. This combustion residue can fall into surface waters. In addition un-ignited pyrotechnic material including duds and misfires can also fall into surface waters. The receiving water fallout area affected by the fireworks residue can vary depending on wind speed and direction, size of the shells, the angle of mortar placement, the type and height of firework explosions and other environmental factors. Once the fireworks residue enters a water body it can be transported to waters and shorelines outside the fallout area due to wind shear and tidal effects.”

The report continues:

“…discharges from the public display of fireworks contain pollutants that have a potential to cause excursions of applicable water and sediment quality objectives.”  In other words public displays of fireworks could cause the municipality to be in violation of its storm water permit.

The concern about the environmental impacts of fireworks is a concern also in New Hampshire where a 2018 report (https://www.des.nh.gov/organization/commissioner/pip/factsheets/bb/documents/bb-60.pdf) that concludes:

“Fireworks contain chemicals that can be harmful to humans and aquatic life. Research suggests that the potential exists for short-term elevated concentrations of these chemicals in surface water, groundwater and the air immediately following larger commercial fireworks displays. At this time, there is no information available about the potential negative impact of consumer-grade fireworks displays on surface waters. However, it is reasonable to expect that a small but unknown amount of contaminants reach the surface water. Best management practices offer solutions to minimize these potential impacts.”



The major concern about fireworks is perchlorate, Perchlorate is an inorganic anion thatis used in solid rocket propellants, fireworks, munitions, signal flares, etc.  Studies have shown that perchlorate is a thyroid disrupter and contaminates the surface and groundwater in the vicinity of fireworks displays. (M. R. Sijimol, Mahesh Mohan, 2014)

Perchlorate is consider such an environmental threat that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a fact sheet about perchlorate (click here for the fact sheet.)


Apparently–despite these known concerns–little consideration was given the potential environmental impacts of fireworks displays on Madison’s lakes to exacerbate or contribute new problems to Madison’s already beleaguered lakes.

The chemical components in fireworks are not harmless and may have long term consequences for human health and environmental quality.

Fireworks displays are exciting and spectacular but this is a short-term thrill with long-term environmental consequences.

Curiously, and significantly–because they are charged with protecting the Madison environment and promoting the common civic good–the  Madison Water Utility and the City of Madison are co-sponsors of “Shake the Lake”, an event that seems at odds with environmental protection.

Posted in Contaminants in fireworks, Contaminates in fireworks, Fireworks displays, Restoration ecology, Water quality in Madison | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Pope Farm Conservancy Weathers Severe Spring Storms

Eighty-year old Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Spillway Handles 5″ of rain in 3 hours on June 16


The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Spillway in Pope Farm Conservancy built in 1938 in cooperation with the Soil Conservation Service.  As it looked on 06.20.18

Sections of highway and stormwater infrastructure in parts of  northern and southern Wisconsin crumbled under the force of this spring’s storms.  In addition to damage to roads, homes, and property, eroded topsoil flowed to the nearest stream or lake.  Especially intense were downpours from Saturday June 16 through Monday June 18 when 10′ of rain fell in a short time in Bayfield County, Wisconsin and surrounds.


Looking north from the outlet of the CCC spillway from Blackhawk Road.  As it looked on 06.20.18

Meanwhile, the Pope Farm Conservancy spillway remains intact and the surrounding landscape undamaged.

The Pope Farm Conservancy in the Town of Middleton, of Dane County in southern Wisconsin is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the 105 acre Pope family farm.  The Pope Farm Conservancy  “sits on top of three recessional moraines in the Town of Middleton, Wisconsin, where three different watersheds come together. A 360 degree panoramic view of Lake Mendota, the Capitol and Madison’s west side can be seen to the east, the Black Earth Creek valley to the North, and the terminal moraine to the South and West.”  (About Pope Farm Conservancy)

The design, engineering, and construction of the 1938 spillway is a marvel and is still functioning as intended 80 years later. For more information about the spillway design, click here.  This longevity is even more remarkable since modern day storm water infrastructure often fails much sooner.

There will be m,ore about the Civilian Conservation Corps, this CCC project and the Pope Farm Conservancy in subsequent posts.

Posted in Civilian Conservation Corps, Pope Farm Conservancy, Storm water | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

A Few Images From the Spring 2018 Prescribed Burn Season

As is usual in spring, in Wisconsin, prescribed management fires were conducted all across Dane, County Wisconsin.  Fire dependent plant communities such as prairies, savannas, oak woodlands, and wetlands were managed by the careful and constrained use of fire.

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The first prescribed management fire in the UW-Madison Arboretum was conducted in 1951 on Curtis Prairie.  The annual spring management ritual, which now uses fire to also manage savannas, oak woodlands, and wetlands has been conducted every spring since then.

After an early start to the burn season in mid-March, snow and cold interrupted burn plans for a couple of weeks in early April.  Burning was back on track in late April until the last couple of days during which excessively dry conditions, and return of strong SW winds have injected a note of caution into burn planning.  But, these ups and downs are typical of a spring burn season.

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Fires such as this one are called “prescribed management fires” because 1) they are conducted under a set of prescribed weather conditions; and 2) are intended to achieve a set of prescribed management outcomes.

Prescribed fire is an efficient and effective ecological restoration tool, the benefits of which were demonstrated by scientific study at the UW-Madison Arboretum by Curtis and Partch in 1948.

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Fire prescriptions are written to maximize safety while still achieving the desired management outcomes.

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A recreated prairie on private property in the Town of Dunkirk, Wisconsin.  This is possibly the only prairie in the Town of Dunkirk.

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A professional land management company conducting a prescribed burn for a private landowner.  The burn crew members seen here have all received training in the safe use of fire and are certified fire professionals.


“Prairie Ravine” along the SW Bike Path in Madison.  Planted, managed, and burned by the Westmorland Neighborhood under the leadership of private citizens–who are also trained and certified.

Prescribed prairie burns, conducted by neighborhood groups, are now common in many public spaces in Madison, such as along the SW Commuter Bike Path shown above.


Curtis, J.T. and M. L. Partch. 1948. Effect of fire on the competition between blue grass and certain prairie plants. The American Midland Naturalist, 39, 437-43.

Posted in Ecological restoration, Prescribed fire, Restoration ecology, Restoration in Madison Wisconsin, SW Bike Path | Tagged | 2 Comments

Two Weeks Until SER MWGL 10th Annual Meeting–April 20-22

Continuing Education Credits, Discounted Registration Deadline, and Call for Student Volunteers


Poster session at the SER MWGL 2017 annual meeting in Grand Rapids, Michigan 

The Midwest-Great Lakes Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) is excited to announce that its upcoming meeting in Stevens Point, WI has been pre-approved for Continuing Education Credits (CECs) from the following organizations:

Society for Ecological Restoration (SER): 6 CECs
International Society of Arboriculture (ISA): 6 CEUs
Society of American Foresters (SAF): 22.5 CFEs

At the meeting, a ” continuing education credit passport” will be provided that you can use for tracking your attendance and independently seeking professional development hours from other organizations. Please email us (mwgl.ser@gmail.com) if you are interested in obtaining continuing education credits, so we may properly sign you in to get full credit. Additional directions and the meeting passport will be available onsite at the registration table.

About the Midwest Great Lakes Chapter of SER

The Midwest-Great Lakes Chapter of SER was established in March 2008 and serves Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.  The chapter’s mission is to promote the science and practice of ecological restoration to assist with the recovery and management of degraded ecosystems throughout the Midwestern and Great Lakes region of the USA.  Click here for more information about SER MWGL

Discounted Registration Rate Still Available

We are two weeks away from the 10th Annual Meeting and there is still plenty of time to register online and obtain discounted registration rates. If you have not yet registered, then we encourage you do so before April 15, 2018 to get the discounted registration rates.  Click here for registration information.


Student Volunteers Needed

Annual meeting organizers are still seeking student volunteers to assist with onsite registration at the upcoming 2018 Midwest-Great Lakes SER Chapter Meeting in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.  Assistance is needed on Friday April 20 and Saturday April 21, 2018. Depending on the availability of funding, there may be up to 8 volunteer opportunities. Student volunteers will receive a free meeting registration in return for their help. Students will be selected on a first-come-first served basis and their availability to work one of four time blocks listed below:

Friday 7:00 am -11:00 am
Friday 11:00 am – 3:00 pm
Friday 3:00 pm – 6:30 pm
Saturday 7:00 am -11:00 am

Those interested in volunteering need to email the chapter at  mwgl.ser@gmail.com as soon as possible expressing your willingness to volunteer and provide information on blocks you would be available and prefer to work.

Meeting Program

We have a fantastic meeting lined up, featuring a keynote presentation by Stephen Carpenter of the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Friday and a plenary presentation by Tracy Hames of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association on Saturday.  Click here for more information about the meeting program.

Meeting Host and Sponsors

We are grateful for the generous support of this year’s meeting hosts (University of Wionsin-Stevens Point’s Lakes Extension and College of Natural Resources) and our meeting sponsors (Applied Ecological Services, Atwell, Cardno, Cindy Crosby-Northwestern University Press, Eco Logic LLC, Eco-Resource Consulting, Environmental Consulting & Technology, Ernst Seeds, Genesis Nursery, Grand Valley State University, Landscapes of Place, Metro Consulting Associates, Partnership for River Restoration and Science in the Upper Midwest, Stantec, The Nature Conservancy, University of Northern Iowa Tallgrass Prairie Center, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Wisconsin Wetlands Association).

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Monarchs Are in Trouble and They Need Everyone’s Help

Ecological restoration, civic engagement, and people working for the common good will be components of a successful monarch recovery strategy

The annual monarch migration is one of the most magnificent and intriguing of all natural phenomena but this natural spectacle is at risk, risk of vanishing as monarch populations continue to decline. This is because the monarch population of the central U.S. flyway is in decline.



Monarch butterfly on Showy Blazizingstar

Monarch butterfly on Showy Blazizingstar, a good nectar plant that is suitable for the home garden.

We know from on-site monitoring that monarch numbers on their overwintering sites are decreasing. For the third year in a row the forest areas occupied by the overwintering adult monarch butterfly population in Mexico has declined, according to a report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which conducts the monitoring.

In December of 2017, 9 colonies in Mexico covered a forest area of 2.48 hectares,   “an area that represents a decrease of 14.77 percent with respect to the previous season (2.91 ha).”, according to the report released on March 5, 2018. By comparison the forest area occupied by adult monarchs in 2015-16 was 4.01 hectares.

Habitat Loss in the Eastern United States

In the Midswest, research and monitoring of monarchs has provided strong evidence that the primary threat to monarchs in the eastern U.S. is due to loss of breeding habitat (Pleasants and Oberhauser 2012, Pleasants 2015, Monarch Joint Venture). Breeding habitat includes milkweed (Asclepias species) host plants for monarch eggs and caterpillars, and nectar plants for the adult butterflies.


Upon release, a netted and tagged monarch kisses a visitor before heading south on its flight to Mexico.

The Biology and Migration of the Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Joint Venture provides a description of the monarch life cycle and a video of a monarch emerging from its chrysalis here.   An overview of monarch migration from Monarch Joint Venture is found here.

There is Urgency.

What can you do? Plant milkweed species, lots of them, and then add nectar plants.

Experts estimate that an additional 1.8 billion milkweed stems are needed in the central U.S. monarch flyway (Billions more milkweeds needed to restore monarch) to support monarch reproduction and migration. This many milkweed stems (Asclepias species) are required for the caterpillars (monarch caterpillars can eat only milkweed leaves), as well as plentiful nectar plants like asters, goldenrods, and blazingstars, for the adults butterflies.

The 2018 Monarch Conservation Implementation Plan calls for: “an approach that engages “all hands” and “all regions” to most effectively support the eastern population. The South Central region plays a significant role in supporting both the spring and fall migrations.”

Beautiful butterfly weed on the Odana Rd. Prairie.

A neighborhood organized and managed native prairie planting project along the SW Bike Path in Madison.  Photo by Stephen B. Glass.


It will take a big, united effort to accomplish this feat. Everyone needs to get involved in the effort to save the monarch. Every nook and cranny of unused land; every plot of waste space, every backyard garden, every restoration project needs to be devoted to plants that support the monarchs.

Vacant lots, bike path rights-of-way, and community gardens are ideal spaces in which to create butterfly gardens—with both milkweed stems for the caterpillars, and nectar sources for the adults.

Every interested person has to help.  If you have not yet ordered your milkweed plants or seeds, do so soon to have them ready for planting in just a few weeks.  Look to native plant sales, or native plant nurseries as reliable sources of plants, seeds, and information and tips about growing butterfly gardens.



Pleasants, J.M., and Oberhauser, K.S.. 2012. Milkweed loss in agricultural fields because of herbicide use: effect on the monarch butterfly population. Insect Conservation and Diversity. 6:135–144

Pleasants, J.M. 2015. Monarch butterflies and agriculture in Monarchs in a changing world: biology and conservation of an iconic butterfly. Ed: KS Oberhauser, Kelly R Nail, Sonia Alitzer. Cornell University Press, Ithaca.

Posted in Monarch butterfly, Monarch migration, Restoration ecology | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Faith In A Seed: Prairie Restorationists at Work Collecting Seed

Seed-based restoration is one of several methods used to establish or enhance restorations.  This method is widely used in prairie restorations in the midwestern United States, and in grasslands world wide.  Seed-based restoration is especially popular with organizations that place an emphasis on local ecotype origin, and diversity.  Seed-based restoration also requires good organization and large numbers of volunteers to collect, clean, and sow the seeds.


Seed collecting at The Prairie Enthusiasts Mounds View Grassland.  Recruiting volunteers for fall seed collecting is easy, especially on glorious, crisp fall days like the ones pictured here from a couple of years ago.  Photo by Steve Glass.

“Collecting seed from remnants near the restoration site has several advantages, the most significant one being that the origin of the seeds is known.  Given the proximity to the restoration site, the plants and their seeds are likely to be of a local ecotype that is adapted to the site conditions.” (Howell, Harrington, and Glass. 2012).    The use of seed  does have drawbacks, including the time required for germination and establishment, as well as often high rates of loss due to predation.


Tall grass prairie. Photo by Steve Glass

Other disadvantages of the seed-based approach include scarcity of high quality remnant sites from which to collect all of the target species.  Seed availability may also be low due to weather conditions that impact flowering and seed production.  For example, either drought or wet years can influence seed production of different species in different ways.


Showy goldenrod, one of the collecting target species and ready for the picking.  Photo by Steve Glass.

There are other disadvantages to collecting seed from remnants.  It may be difficult to collect any (or enough) seed because: 1)the species of interest may be widely scattered across a large landscape; 2) of a low or hidden stature; or 3) have explosive seeds that disperse before the collector arrives.  These facts of prairie life may sometimes make collection of adequate quantities difficult or impossible.


Multi-tasking.  Photo by Steve Glass.

To overcome these constraints some organizations that plant hundreds of acres at a time supplement wild collected seed with that collected from plants grown under controlled and tended conditions in nursery settings.  This approach gives them a fighting chance to produce adequate quantities of seed to meet their restoration targets.



Collecting still gentian.  Photo by Steve Glass.

Although collecting native seed from remnants is enjoyable and easy to learn, it does require guidance and knowledgeable help from local experts (above) who can identify the species, know the location of local ecotypes, determine if the seeds are ripe enough to collect, and ensure that the local population are not over-collected.


Harvesting in bulk for prairie restoration projects; good work for one season.  But next comes the cleaning, sorting, and weighing.  Photo by Steve Glass.



Black, M.R., E.J. Judziewicz,  2009.  Wildflowers of Wisconsin and The Great Lakes Region.  University of Wisconsin Press.  Madison, WI

Howell, E.A., J.A. Harrington, and S.B. Glass.  2012. Introduction to Restoration Ecology. Island Press. Washington, D.C.

Rock, H.W. 1974. Prairie Propagation Handbook.  Boerner Botanical Gardens, Whitnall Park.  Milwaukee County Park System.



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Images of Winter on the Prairie

Snow-covered Curtis Prairie

The prairie continually renews itself by adapting to, and changing with the conditions.  I like to think that visitors to the prairie absorb some of the optimism, sturdiness, and flexibility inherent in the prairie ecosystem.

Curtis Prairie under a late winter snow cover. 2014-01-29DSCN0303March 09, 2009

This image from 2009, is one of my favorite photos of Curtis Prairie, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  I like the cheerful, promising early morning light.

At least once a week I walk over to the Madison Arboretum to visit Curtis Prairie.  I’m fortunate that it is a short distance away.  I enjoy the prairie in the winter because of the peace, quiet, and solitude.  And I take delight in  the wildlife I can see if I look closely.

Curtis Prairie is striking at all times, but especially in the winter when covered by snow.  I always take along my camera and try to capture a few good images.  These are some of my favorites from over the years.


The Jackson Oak

The famed Jackson Oak, named after Joseph Jackson, one of the Arboretum’s founding elders.  Damage to the trunk and limbs from an ice storm in the winter of 1976-77 led to its gradual decline.   Even in death the old oak is majestic.

The beauty of the winter prairie is in the details of stem and leaf; twig and trunk.  In part, the prairie’s beauty is also in its many subtle shades and hues of brown, red, orange, and black.

Bird's next with eggs 612014-01-28DSCN9578January 28, 2008

The winter landscape also signals the coming renewal of spring.

Curtis Prairie is more than just a prairie.  It is a mosaic of different plant community types: prairie, wetland, sedge meadow, springs, storm water ponds, and shrub thickets, among others.  This diverse landscape explains some of its flexibility and why it is such great habitat for birds, insects, amphibians, mammals and, of course, the humans who enjoy visiting.

Curtis Prairie under a late winter snow cover. 32014-01-29DSCN0304March 09, 2009

Looking west out onto Curtis Prairie, a  March sunrise highlights the red osier dogwood . 

In early March, the winter stems of  red osier dogwood (Cornus sanguina) in this natural wetland area in Curtis Prairie, have already turned red, anticipating the arrival of spring.

The promise of spring and better things ahead are how I want to think about 2018, especially after all we have been through in 2017.   Let’s bid 2017 a farewell, take what lessons we can,  and look forward to 2018 with optimism, and the recognition that lots of hard work lies ahead if we are to shake off the effects of 2017 and get back on track.


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