On May 20, the Winnebago County Soil and Water Conservation District began celebrating its 80th year of existence. Since it is 2020, and they say hindsight is 2020, let’s take a look back in time to the origin of our organization, how we got started, how we have evolved over the years to the ever changing needs of the community, and where we are headed.

Soil Conservation in Winnebago County began with the 1935 formation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the Village of Durand, under the direction of the U.S. Army and U.S. Soil Erosion Service. The impact of the conservation movement was felt by many farmers in the Durand-Pecatonica area.

In May of 1940, landowners voted to form the Pecatonica-Durand Soil Conservation District, the 4th recognized district in Illinois. The District included the territory north of the Pecatonica River to the state line, and west of the Sugar River to the Stephenson County Line. A small portion of Stephenson County was also included in the District’s boundaries.

In October of the same year, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the US Department of Agriculture and the Soil Conservation Service to furnish technical assistance to the new fledgling district.

This first staff included Frank Reed, L. F. Wainscott, and Henry Brunmeyer who was the Farm Advisor at the time. He and J. Arthur Johnson were early leaders who were influential in organizing the formation of the District and in influencing farmers to try the new conservation measures on their eroding farms.

The first office of the District and SCS was in the Yale building in Durand. The District’s first Directors were Don Flynn – Chairman; Ray Meissen – Secretary/Treasurer; Everett Derwent, Roy Morris and Art Fritz.

In 1942 the Roscoe-Harlem area petitioned into the District, and in 1948 many of the remaining unincorporated areas came into the District. As a result, the name was changed to the Winnebago County Soil Conservation District. Sometime during the 1950’s the District’s name was changed to include water to reflect its expanding role in resource conservation. During the late 80’s and early 90’s the municipal areas were included into the District so that the entire County was included in the District.

The Winnebago County Soil and Water Conservation District is an equal opportunity employer. All programs and services are offered without regard to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, marital status or handicap.

Districts were staffed with a Resource Conservationist, who provided technical information; and an Administrative Coordinator, who kept financial records and provided administrative support.

As District programs and activities increased, so did its staff. In the 1970’s, a dedicated Soil Scientist was added to provide soils information to the County Board and other units of government to assist them in land use decisions and make on-site soils investigations for both subdivisions and individual lots.

As urban programs and educational activities increased, and to fulfill the technical assistance needs in the rural community, additional staff was needed. In the mid 1980’s the District was able to obtain funding from Winnebago County to add the County Conservationist position.

This person was the District’s farm contact and was responsible for promoting conservation on the land. This was fortuitous, as it came at the same time as the creation of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), an integral part of the 1986 USDA farm bill, which helped address erosion on highly erodible land.

In the challenging economic times during and after the 2008 recession, state funding was severely cut (or eliminated in some years) and the income from services we provide also declined. This resulted in reduced staffing levels, job duties being re-assigned, and in general the District learned to “do more with less.” Currently, our staff includes three people with the following positions.

Executive Director/Soil Scientist – Dennis Anthony oversees District operations, prepares budgets, provides annual reports and documentation for State and County leaders. He also provides support to all other programs as needed and serves on several technical committees.

As the Soil Scientist he provides the soils borings for septic suitability for the County Health Department, soil mapping for potential subdivisions, conducts site inspections for erosion and sediment control on construction sites, and is the contact for urban concerns regarding natural resources.

Administrative Coordinator – Melisa Long manages the District financials, coordinates various sales programs such as trees, rain barrels and conservation ID books; coordinates our local Envirothon competition, publishes the “Horizons” newsletter, and updates our social media sites. She also provides administrative support to NRCS for their EQIP and CSP program.

Resource Conservationist – Katie Walsh serves as the main contact for our agricultural producers, promoting the various conservation programs available. A large portion of her time is spent providing technical support for the USDA-CRP program, as well as managing the State Cost-Share program and the annual transect survey.

She also prepares the Natural Resource Information (NRI) Reports for the County and municipalities, and is transitioning to some of the committees, such as the local groundwater committee and some of the locally led watershed committees.

The District also has a steadfast group of elected Directors, as well as volunteers that serve as Associate Directors, to provide guidance regarding District programs and activities. In addition, the conservation movement in the County could not have progressed in the manner it has without the aid of our partnering agencies.

The USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA-Farm Services Agency, University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service, and the Winnebago County Farm Bureau have provided invaluable support and assistance to the District.

Over the years the District has used various methods to encourage the conservation of our natural resources.

We have hosted or partnered with other agencies on workshops, field plots and tours, and shop meetings; and by providing cost-share programs and equipment rental programs.

As you work the fields or drive down the road, I’m sure that each and every one of you can note a waterway or terrace project, or tree or prairie planting, that has impacted the conservation efforts of you and your neighbors, through the efforts of the Soil and Water Conservation District and the USDA Service Center. The District will look to continue these programs, exploring

new opportunities as needs and interests arise.

Due to the many changes in land uses, farm economics, and the many new and changing federal and state programs available, the District has as great of a challenge today as that handful of men did in 1935 when they encouraged the CCC Camp, or in 1940 when many of these same men organized the Pecatonica-Durand Soil Conservation District.

This winter the District plans to celebrate the 80th anniversary with a traditional Annual Meeting. Look for more details later this fall.



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