RIVER FALLS — Supporters of a proposed forest preserve along the Kinnickinnic River were treated to a candlelight hike Friday night, Jan. 29, to celebrate progress on the long-sought project that will boost public access to the river and connect landlocked school forest property to nearby parks.

The event marked the end of a $500,000 fundraising campaign for 44 acres of old-growth forest in the lower river canyon. With the land purchase finalized, development of the Community Forest on the Kinni will commence over the coming months, including opportunities for public engagement regarding recreation, habitat and water quality.

The 44-acre wooded parcel along the Kinnickinnic River connects the landlocked River Falls School Forest to Glen Park and River Hills Park. Michael Brun / RiverTown Multimedia
The 44-acre wooded parcel along the Kinnickinnic River connects the landlocked River Falls School Forest to Glen Park and River Hills Park. Michael Brun / RiverTown Multimedia

The Community Forest on the Kinni will mean more recreation opportunities and shoreline protection along the river, according to the nonprofit Kinnickinnic River Land Trust, which oversees three existing preserves in western Wisconsin. The project is a collaborative effort with the River Falls School District and JoAnn Ailport-Dreistadt Estate.

The land trust announced in June it was awarded a $187,000 grant through the federal Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program, covering nearly half of the land purchase. All told there were more than 100 donors, many of them individuals and families that contributed small sums to reach the fundraising goal, said Charlene Brooks, the land trust’s executive director.

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Michael Page and son Theron, of River Falls, take a break from the festivities Jan. 29, 2021, at a celebration for the proposed Community Forest on the Kinni, which hit a fundraising goal in January. Michael Brun / RiverTown Multimedia
Michael Page and son Theron, of River Falls, take a break from the festivities Jan. 29, 2021, at a celebration for the proposed Community Forest on the Kinni, which hit a fundraising goal in January. Michael Brun / RiverTown Multimedia

“We are proud of how the community advocated for something that will make all of our lives richer now and in the future,” Brooks said. “Our deepest thanks.”

River Falls School Board in January unanimously approved a financial commitment of $30,395 to Kinnickinnic River Land Trust for future development. The money was held by the district for more than a decade to be used for improving access to school forest property near Rocky Branch Elementary.

“It has been a long time in coming,” School Board President Stacy Johnson Meyers said prior to the School Board vote.

More information about the forest preserve and Kinnickinnic River Land Trust can be found at https://kinniriver.org.