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Preserving & Digitizing the Historical Archives of the Kettle Moraine State Forest – Southern Unit

The Early Beginnings of the Kettle Moraine History Association

The Kettle Moraine Natural History Association was established in 1996. Ron Kurowski and Dr. Donald M. Reed were instrumental in forming the Kettle Moraine Natural History Association.

 

Ron was the full-time naturalist at the State Forest for 39 years.  He was responsible for initiating the restoration efforts that continue to encompass the Scuppernong River Habitat Area – a 3,000+ acre jewel in the heart of the property. He was also an editor of the Scuppernong Journal.

 

Donald M. Reed was the Chief Biologist of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. Together, Ron and Don worked to create the Kettle Moraine Natural History Association. Soon after formation, Marlin Johnson, Susan Lewis, John Bielefeldt, and Joicelyn Schwager were a few of the first members to join and continued to serve on the board of directors for decades.

 

As Joicelyn recalls, “Many of the first members of our KMNHA came from Ron’s spring wildflower hikes.  Those of us who hiked with him every week were so impressed with his love of the forest and the wonders it contained.  His awe and enthusiasm were absolutely contagious.  His knowledge and historical research of the Kettle Moraine State Forest – Southern Unit was encyclopedic and he was always willing to share.  That’s what made his Scuppernong Journals so special.”

 

When Ron retired, he went from an advisory role in our friends group to a Board Member where he remained dedicated to supporting the work and staff of the Kettle Moraine State Forest - Southern Unit. In June 2022, Ron passed away suddenly.  He is greatly missed!

Preserving History & Honoring His Memory

Amanda Kutka, Parks and Recreation Specialist, Kettle Moraine State Forest – Southern Unit, is dedicated to keeping his memory alive and preserving the history for future generations. Amanda shares, “My time at the Southern Unit only overlapped with Ron Kurowski for about 2 years. During that time, he was always busy with multiple projects.  It seemed like most of his energy was focused on the Scuppernong Prairie.  Prescribed burning, the gift shop, and grant writing was all a means to contribute to restoring the Scuppernong Prairie.”


Since Ron’s passing, Amanda has begun tackling the challenge of sorting, organizing, scanning, and digitalizing hundreds of documents, photos, and archives. Through this experience, she learned that his interest and research spanned beyond the Scuppernong Prairie.


Amanda shares, “I now see that there have been many topics that were important to Ron.  We are fortunate to live and work in an interlobate moraine region where settlers from many different countries have put down roots. We are also fortunate that Ron dug deep into many areas in ways that are no longer possible.  He preserved stories, artifacts, and locations that would otherwise have been lost to time.


The biggest item that struck me when I approached the archives is the research Ron did on Native Americans in the area. Handwritten notes appear on maps to point to possible villages, burial sites, and artifacts found.  All the sites are correlated with the Wisconsin State Historical Society where possible and notes of visits with locals who were one generation away from the locals who recall Native Americans still living in the area.”


Fern Young talks to Naturalist Ron Kurowski at the Dedication of the Young Prairie, August 30, 1990
Fern Young talks to Naturalist Ron Kurowski at the Dedication of the Young Prairie, August 30, 1990

The first box she tackled in her quest to digitize and organize was the Young Prairie. Much of this file is plant surveys and prescribed burn plans.  However, it also has correspondence between Ron and Fern Young. Amanda shares, “Based on what I read, I think the donation of 56 acres of remnant prairie from the Young Foundation was due to the connection Ron made with Fern. The donation and sales of over 1,000 acres may not have happened if a less engaged naturalist had been stationed here.  This box also told me that Ron never threw away a copy of a document.  When in doubt, he always added extra copies to the file!”


Since the files have not been sorted out or all scanned yet, finding a particular item is difficult.  However, she has discovered that if she checks all possible boxes, she will usually find what she is looking for. There is a wide variety of his letters, DNR memos, photographs, newspaper articles, and handwritten notes that are all great leads for us to follow in the future.  While she is only 5% done with the digitizing project, she can see that the research contained in the archives would be enough for Ron to have written 20 more years of the Scuppernong Journal


Amanda reflects, “As I continue on to different boxes full of history, I am enthralled with the history, thankful that Ron acquired it, and excited for all we have to share in the future.”



The turbine house, built in the early 1900s, made the big house at Paradise Springs (then called Minnehaha Springs) one of the first to have electricity in the area.
The turbine house, built in the early 1900s, made the big house at Paradise Springs (then called Minnehaha Springs) one of the first to have electricity in the area.

Digitalizing The Scuppernong Journal

As Amanda works to digitalize and backup decades of history, she will be sharing her collection with the Friends of the Kettle Moraine State Forest – Southern Unit. In time, we will work to publish as much as possible on our website and blog.

 

Granted there is much to uncover and preserve, the Friends Group felt that the Scuppernong Journal would be the best place to start. The Scuppernong Journal spans 78 volumes published from 1996 to 2022. Ron typically published two to three issues a year. Starting in 2024, we will republish volume 1.


The Scuppernong Journal Archive

Below there will soon be links to the digital versions of the Scuppernong Journal.

 

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