A Delicate Balance
Gary Aulik burst into his new lake home, beaming with excitement. He had been out early, putting up houses for bluebirds and martins, when he saw a flock of young turkeys. And a young ruffed grouse, picking gravel at the roadside.
“It didn’t even fly off!”
Aulik is president of Aulik Companies, a St. Louis Park design-build firm. A long-time hunter and angler, he’s also enthusiastic about the outdoors, conservation, and wildlife. These days, he and his wife, Laura, and their four children are settling into a new seasonal home, overlooking a secluded bay and island on Long Lake, north of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.
Building on Long Lake gave Aulik the opportunity to put his conservation principles into practice and to demonstrate that it’s possible to conserve shore land and protect wildlife without going broke trying. Aulik’s house, completed in the spring of 2005, is just part of a story that began long before he got involved.
In 2000, a 580-acre Girl Scout camp with two miles of nearly pristine Long Lake shoreline went on sale. Landowner Steve Kristo bought more than 200 acres, most of which he intends to leave wild. The rest was snatched up by a developer who planned to develop 99 lots, including about 40 on Long Lake and others on undeveloped lakes nearby.
Lakeshore residents were alarmed. “People kind of thought that things like that were safe for years,” says Rick Remington, land program director for the West Wisconsin Land Trust.
Kristo and a neighbor, Rich Kracum, contacted the Land Trust, a nonprofit organization devoted to protecting natural areas. “Caring passionately about the lake, they wanted to do something about it,” says Remington. The challenge: protecting a significant chunk of natural land while earning enough to break even.
To accomplish this, Kristo and Kracum ponied up enough to buy the land from the developer. Then they sold a conservation easement on 317 acres to the Land Trust, which meant that most of the land would remain natural forever. Hunting, fishing, and other non-motorized recreation would be allowed, but there would be no structures, motorized recreation, spraying of pesticides, logging, excavation, or other dramatic alterations.
The easement allowed for 11 lots to be sold and developed on Long Lake—but only under stringent conditions to protect the shoreline forest, scenic views from the lake, and especially the water quality. “Our whole interest is safeguarding the lake,” Remington says.
Now Aulik got involved. He had known Kristo for some time, helping to remodel his Eau Claire home and the old Girl Scout lodge on his property. “I told Steve and Rich I was very interested in one lot and would set up covenants on the balance of the property.”
The upshot: Each future homeowner will have a 100-foot-wide shore land-use zone on the lot. Within this zone, the owner will be able to cut some trees in a 30-foot-wide “lake access corridor,” and trim trees in a 30-foot-wide “view corridor.” Otherwise, no clearing will be allowed along the shoreline—no lawns stretching to water’s edge—to protect the lake from unfiltered runoff that can lead to algae growth. (For more information on protecting shoreline and water quality, see “Lakescaping the Natural Way"). Runoff from the roof and other hard surfaces would be routed to rain gardens to soak into the ground rather than flush into the lake.
So far, several sites have been sold, but only Aulik’s has been developed. His house nestles into the landscape, amid mature oak, maple, birch, and white pine. It has the look of a century-old lodge with a “Hansel and Gretel” touch, as he describes it.
The allusion to northern Europe also comes through in the foundation of native quartzite fieldstone and siding of vertical cedar panels, treated to appear old and weathered. “The longer it goes, the more it looks like the bark on the trees,” Aulik says. The roof is steep enough to shed the snow of a Nordic winter, with a hint of flair at the eaves. Brick-red trim accents the building’s outlines, yet is subtle enough to hide amid autumn oaks.
A fieldstone fireplace anchors the interior. The floors are recycled oak. (A third of the boards are reclaimed from the kegs of St. Paul’s Hamm’s Brewery.) The walls are paneled in Eastern white pine, stained and waxed for a subtle luster. High on the walls are mounted animals—including two trophy bucks and a bobcat with a ruffed grouse under its paw. Also on display are old lamps, landing nets, a pack basket, a weathered wood-duck house, a minnow bucket, and a “canoe-to-let” sign. “Some would say I’m a little overstuffed here,” Aulik admits. “But I like to look around at that things we’ve collected over the years.”
The high ceiling, plentiful dormers, and tall windows bring light streaming in and provide a view of Long Lake. “We like to think that when you’re going through the building, you feel you’re going back in time,” Aulik says.
With strictures in place to protect the land and lake, that sensation will be maintained for years to come. Says Aulik, “In terms of the ecology, in terms of the future, in terms of conservation, this is forward thinking.”
GREG BREINING IS AN OUTDOOR AND TRAVEL WRITER WHO LIVES IN ST. PAUL.