Knowles – Nelson Stewardship Program

Named after two former Wisconsin governors, Warren Knowles, a Republican, and Gaylord Nelson, a Democrat, the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program honors Wisconsin’s historic commitment to land and water protection and outdoor recreation. If there’s a natural place in Wisconsin that is special to you, chances are the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program has made it better.

The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program provides funds for cities, counties, non-profit groups, and the state to purchase land for conservation, outdoor recreation and trails. It funds essential upkeep and maintenance of our waterways, parks, forests, and trails. The hiking, biking, snowmobile and ATV trails across the state owe their existence to the program. Local governments and citizen conservation organizations also receive funds to purchase land for conservation and protect our land, lakes, rivers and streams. Stewardship has funded projects in every single county in Wisconsin.

silohuette of geese family swimming past handlebars
The Menomonee Valley in Milwaukee used to be an abandoned industrial brownfield. With the help of Stewardship Program funds it now is full of life and good paying 13,000 jobs.

How is the Program Funded?

The Stewardship Program is funded using general obligation bonds, which, like a home mortgage, requires the state to pay principal and interest over time for an investment that will last for generations. Debt service for Stewardship Program borrowing accounts for less than 0.3% of Wisconsin’s state budget, and works out to a little more than $0.30 per Wisconsinite per week or approximately $15 per resident per year. The state legislature has historically reauthorized the program for ten year periods. It began at $25 million a year in funding, eventually it reached a high of $86 million. On June 11th, 2019 the legislature reauthorized the program for two years at $33 million per year. 

What is next for Stewardship?

With the program authorized until 2022, we have time to work with our coalition of partners from other conservation, hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation groups to increase funding for the program, and reauthorize it for a longer period of time. On January 15, 2020, Wisconsin Representatives Amy Loudenbeck from Clinton, and Joel Kitchens from Sturgeon Bay, proposed Assembly Bill 855 to reauthorize the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. The bill would extend funding for land and water conservation in Wisconsin for eight years, ensuring funding for land and water conservation until 2030. 

Ask: Restore increased funding for the Knowles – Nelson Stewardship Program and and reauthorize it until 2032.

UPDATE: February 18th, 2021

Governor’s Budget Provides Funding for Bike Infrastructure

Governor Evers’ 2021-2023 Biennial Budget is great for bikes. Many of the Wisconsin Bike Fed’s legislative priorities such as the restoration of eminent domain for bike and walking trails, a statewide Complete Streets policy, and increased funding for the Transportation Alternatives Program were included. Particularly exciting was a proposed ten-year reauthorization and funding at $70 million annually for the Knowles Nelson Stewardship Program.

Last year, the Bike Fed joined “Team Knowles Nelson” a coalition of 58 groups, representing environmental conservation, business interests, local governments, hunting, fishing, forestry, agriculture, and recreation, who acknowledge the tremendous positive impact that the Stewardship Program has on our health, our economy, and our priceless Wisconsin landscapes.  Nearly everyone in Wisconsin lives within 5 miles of a KNSP investment.

The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program has made over 1,500 grants to nonprofits and local governments that support bicycle infrastructure including: trail buildings, trailheads, parks, shelters, restrooms, and more. Just a few of the bike projects funded by the program include:

  • Capital City Trail, Dane County
  • 9 mile County Forest, Marathon County
  • Oak Leaf Trail, Milwaukee
  • Ben Bikin Park Bridge, Sparta
  • Great Headwaters Trail, Vilas County
  • Loop the Little Lake, Neenah and Menasha

The Governor’s budget proposal is just the beginning of a long ride.  We could use your help getting KNSP reauthorization across the finish line. The Knowles Nelson website has a very handy form which allows you to thank the Governor for his support and to let your legislators know that protecting land for cycling is a priority.