Woodland in Oronoco - Ken Nichols & Sharon Wonsil

“A few years ago, we considered moving to central Wisconsin for better job opportunities”, said Ken Nichols. “We decided against the move mainly because we didn’t want to leave our home and the land we’ve owned for 20 years. In particular, we have invested a lot of time in planting trees and now we really enjoy watching them grow.”

The home and land that Ken and his wife Sharon Wonsil own is 20 acres located outside Oronoco (Try pronouncing the name of the town. It’s fun!), which is just north of Rochester.

“We’ve planted about 4,000 trees over the years,” Ken said. “Some of them were planted during planting parties with friends and relatives. The rule during those events was ‘no food or beer until the trees are in the ground!’ Now we often hear from someone who participated in one of those parties who wants to know how their trees are doing. The parties and the people who helped plant them are all part of the memories we cherish.”

When Ken and Sharon bought the place, it was a farmstead with few trees. “During the first year we planted black walnut seedlings but the deer ate most of them,” Ken said. The walnuts finally did take hold and are now 30 or 40 feet tall. In addition to walnuts they have planted red, white, pin and swamp white oak, Norway spruce, red cedar, high bush cranberry, shag bark hickory, various fruit trees and lilacs.

Now that the trees have grown, watching birds and wildlife out the window is a regular enjoyment. Sharon said, “When we first moved in after purchasing the land, we’d race to the window to see a squirrel.

Now we see all sorts of birds and wildlife. Recently I saw a screech owl stick its head out of a shag tree cavity the pileated woodpeckers had made. Last winter we enjoyed watching the antics turkeys would go through trying to get at the sunflower seeds in a bird feeding platform.”

Ken has been an enthusiastic attendee at various training sessions. He’s taken many Woodland Advisor classes. His favorite class was the Wisconsin Woodland Leadership Institute for which Blandin Foundation provided scholarships for MFA members in 2008 and 2009. The Institute is currently on hold while more funding sources are sought. When it does become active again, Ken would highly recommend it. In fact, he said, “If I had a bunch of dollars, I’d contribute it to the Institute to get it going again right now!”

Ken and Sharon obtained a Stewardship Plan the year they moved in and had it updated last year. “There is a lot of talk about the economic value of Stewardship Plans,” Ken said, “but I think caring for the woods is good for the soul.”