In addition to the high biodiversity and number of rare species found in the Driftless, the area is unique in its conservation role-model status. The Driftless is the Lambeau Field of conservation—an almost-mythical place with a storied history of leadership.
Our nation’s first soil conservation project of the 1930s was launched in the Coon Creek Watershed around Coon Valley, Wis. with the leadership of Aldo Leopold, the “father” of wildlife conservation. Phil Lewis, a retired UW Professor of Landscape Architecture, identified the Driftless as a region that should be preserved as a natural playground and retreat for surrounding, large urban areas as part of his Circle City concept developed decades ago.
The river floodplain that bisects the Driftless was declared the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge in 1924. This 240,000-acre refuge, which runs for 261 miles along the river valley, provides habitat for 40% of America’s waterfowl, more than 300 bird species and 260 species of fish. With more than 500 access points and harbors, the river is a recreational resource to more than 3 million people annually (more than Yellowstone), supporting a $6.6 billion annual recreational/tourism economy. Just a few years ago, the Upper Mississippi River was designated a RAMSAR wetlands of global significance.
Additional conservation focus comes from the Driftless Area Initiative as well as a coalition of nonprofit land trusts known as the Blufflands Alliance. Trout Unlimited recognized the significance of the world-class trout streams of the area when it launched its TUDARE program (Trout Unlimited Driftless Area Restoration Effort) in 2004.
The Driftless Rivers National Park would serve to protect the core area of the Driftless Region while also making it accessible for outdoor recreation and nature appreciation.