Help Us Protect Pope Farm Conservancy

Education and Preservation over Commercialization


Our Response to the Sept. 12th Article in the Middleton Cross Plains Time-Tribune

In a letter dated August 15th from the Friends of Pope Farm Conservancy to the Town of Middleton board, the Friends informed the Town that we will be discontinuing our maintenance efforts at the Conservancy and instead be concentrating our efforts on education going forward. We plan on developing more documentaries on the stories of the land including its history, Native American contributions, geology and land formation, erosion, and the CCC.  We are also looking to add additional self-guided tour pamphlets, and plan to continue and possibly add to our educational talks to the public.  The Friends would like to help the school district learn about the lessons at PFC and the surrounding area. We believe this is a wonderful opportunity to utilize the Conservancy for what it has always intended to be.

On Sept. 12, 2019, the Middleton Cross Plains Times-Tribune ran an article titled Fallout Continues Between Friends & Town. The Friends group wishes to issue a response to that article in a Letter to the Editor, written by FOPFC Chair Mel Pope.

Letter to the Editor

I was dismayed by many of the quotations that were made in the article that appeared in the Middleton Cross Plains Times-Tribune last Thursday (September 12th, 2019).  As I read the article, it became clear that many corrections and clarifications were needed in order for your readership to be accurately informed.

The Friends of Pope Farm Conservancy (FOPFC) is a 501 C (3) Corporation.  We have our own by-laws and board of directors, as well as our own assets and liabilities. We are responsible to our membership and the IRS, not to the Town of Middleton (TOM).  Every dollar FOPFC has spent since our inception has benefited Pope Farm Conservancy (PFC) per our by-laws. Over the years the FOPFC has put thousands of dollars into PFC to build interpretive signs, a garden shed, a parking lane, hired summer interns, burned prairies, and developed educational materials.  Now we have been criticized by comments made by the chair of the TOM.

The TOM owns PFC and since its inception the FOPFC has had a “memorandum of understanding” with the TOM.  It has worked well, and anything the FOPFC does on the property that would require funding from the TOM or anything the FOPFC does that changes the aesthetics at PFC, rightfully needs approval from the TOM.  This agreement contains a number of other important features.

Quotations are from the 9/12/19 article:

“The relationship soured between the Friends and the town board over money, Richson said”.  That is simply not true.  There were many issues but the biggest issue was that the TOM wanted to control the FOPFC.

 “When the Town of Middleton presented the Friends with an agreement last fall requiring adherence to the spending provisions that attach to Stewardship grants, the Friends wouldn’t sign, Richson said”

In actuality, the TOM sent a proposed operating agreement to the FOPFC via email.  We asked for more information and they did not respond, we asked for clarification and they did not provide it, we asked to meet with them and they did not agree to meet.  We believe that the operating agreement that the TOM proposed was designed to control the FOPFC.  For instance, the agreement called for TOM approval of messages from the FOPFC to our own membership, and approving messages on our social media.  One of the purposes of the FOPFC is to advocate for PFC, and the idea we would need Town approval for our messages at the same time we advocate to that very same body is ridiculous.  There were many other provisions that made this agreement untenable.  The Friends cannot sign an agreement that would give up our rights to operate as an independent corporation or encumber our rights of expression.  The TOM Chair continues to try to involve the DNR grant with the Friends.  The Town has an agreement with the DNR, not the Friends.  The Friends have not raised any monies whatsoever at PFC for two years.  Before that, whenever the FOPFC held an event to raise funds on the Property, it was approved by the TOM board with no restrictions.

 Finally, the FOPFC informed the TOM that it was not planning on doing any fund raising on the property in the future.  This made the whole question of DNR stewardship approval moot.

 “... until they (FOPFC) received a $40,000 donation last year ...”  

Not correct.  The FOPFC has complied with all IRS regulations, and we have put our financial information on our website, even though we are not required to do so. 

It is unfortunate that we have to continue to respond to articles like this.  The FOPFC is a volunteer organization, and our volunteers want their efforts to be satisfying, meaningful, and to be recreational in nature.  Obviously working with the TOM these last couple years has not been fun.   In the end, the FOPFC board members are all emotionally connected with PFC, and the vote to discontinue our maintenance efforts with the TOM was unanimous and sad to the eight members present.

However, the biggest part of the story is that the FOPFC is working to continue its mission to enhance the educational experience at PFC.  Our membership is excited about doing what we can to help the new school in any way possible.  Getting students out into the natural world is exciting for all of us, and we hope we can continue to enhance the Conservancy as an educational asset.  It will help the community, the students, and the TOM.

Mel Pope, Chair, FOPFC

Channel3000 Story from Sept. 17, 2019 titled Friends of Pope Farm Conservancy Discontinue Maintenance Efforts


Post Sunflower Days Update

Now that the commercialized Sunflower Days event put on by the Town of Middleton is over, we would like to share our responses to several assertions made by the TOM regarding the event and the treatment of the Conservancy overall. Please click on the box below for more detailed information. 

Betty Pope's son Erik Zoerb was present for many of the meetings regarding the sale of the Pope Farm property to the Town of Middleton. For more information from Erik regarding these meetings, which date back to 1995, please click on the second box below.  


In response to their article on Sunflower Days in the August 1st, 2019 edition

Letter to the Editor of the Middleton Cross Plains Times-Tribune

After reading the article on Sunflower Days published in your August 1st, 2019 edition, we felt compelled to clarify a number of inaccuracies that it contained.  To be clear, the family is not opposed to Sunflower Days.  We are concerned about the motives of the Town of Middleton and its quest to monetize the Conservancy.  Pope Farm is a conservancy, and much of what is being done by the Town for Sunflower Days is inappropriate, both from a monetary and environmental standpoint.  We are concerned about the very future of the Conservancy itself – that allowing the commercialization of this event will lead to others – weddings, race events, concerts, etc.

The family offered a workable compromise to this whole issue.  The parking was restricted this year and people were forced to use shuttle buses to get to the site.  The town charged an admission fee and the shuttle ride was free. We suggested they simply charge for the shuttle ride instead of an admission fee. Walk-in traffic would be asked for a suggested donation. We also believe the Town should discontinue the use of neonicotinoid-treated sunflowers in these sensitive areas. In general, the admission would be free, the Conservancy would be open, the event would be environmentally friendly, the Town would do well, the family would support SF Days, the Friends of the Conservancy and many patrons of Pope Farm Conservancy would be happy, and it would reduce the threat to the Conservancy long-term.

The Town would not talk to us about this concept.

To protect the Conservancy over time, Art and Betty Pope put restrictive covenants in place when the land was sold. “Park shall mean a typical municipal park open to the public either free of charge or for a reasonable usage charge and comprising only open space, picnic tables, recreational equipment or other recreational improvements such as, for example only, a municipal swimming pool, which are in keeping with the character of a typical municipal park.”  The reasonable usage charge would be used for recreational improvements at Pope Farm Conservancy. We believe there are no recreational improvements at Pope Farm Conservancy that warrant a usage charge.  An admission fee to enter the Conservancy itself is very different, and we believe it is prohibited.

The Town administrator is quoted as saying “that the DNR concluded that the fees were reasonable.” The Town received a grant from the DNR after the land was sold to the Town, and thus, the DNR needs to approve any charges the Town imposes as part of their agreement.  However, the Town appears to be taking two separate agreements between different parties and using an approval from one agreement to infer it applies to the other.  In our opinion the Town is trying to leave the impression the DNR is OK with the Town violating the restrictive covenants that the Town has with the Pope/Zoerb family.  This assumes that the DNR was a signatory to the restrictive covenants between the Town and the family.  It was not.  It assumes the DNR has the ability to modify a private legal agreement to which it is not a part.  It does not.  The DNR has nothing to do with the restrictive covenants between the Town and the family.

We believe the current Town of Middleton administration is being disingenuous in its attempt to obscure the issues. Unfortunately, this is all about greed, and that is something that saddens the family of Art and Betty Pope, and many who have put so much effort into the Conservancy.


The Pope/Zoerb family


Frequently Asked Questions

About Pope Farm Conservancy

Q: What is a Conservancy?

Here is the Town of Middleton’s definition:

 "Passive Park” shall mean a park designated for passive uses.  A basic level of passive use is viewing – views of nature, seasonal interests, and human activities that permit or encourage the unobtrusive engagement of viewing.  In this context, passive recreation as defined for a passive park may include hiking, jogging, cross-country skiing, horseback riding in designated areas and other non-motorized outdoor recreation activities that do not materially alter the landscape, degrade environmental quality or disrupt established tranquility.  A park that is designated as passive may accommodate activities that are engaged in by individuals or small groups that are not dependent on a delineated area designed for specific non-commercial activities, for example, educational field trips or Audubon groups.  No organized sports that require athletic fields or open space such as soccer, baseball, or commercial uses, are permitted in passive parks. All Town of Middleton conservancy areas are Passive Parks.

Q: Why is that definition of a Conservancy being threatened by Sunflower Days?

- This is a public conservancy and it is being restricted to the general public for 13 days.

- The Conservancy is being commercialized by a for-profit marketing firm.

- A fee must be paid for adults to enter the Conservancy regardless of their destination within it.

- A for-profit athletic event will be held in the Conservancy that threatens its passive nature.

- It sets in motion a precedent to commercialize and restrict access for future events.

Q: How could for-profit events like this impact the Conservancy in the long term?

Pope Farm is a conservancy. Restricting access to it, and charging an entrance fee, leads down a slippery slope. The Town is monetizing the Conservancy for Sunflower Days, and it could set a precedent for concerts, weddings, and many other types of large gatherings. The Town could close the Conservancy at any time for a fee—over time the land could easily become a public venue versus a conservancy.  The Pope-Zoerb family put a declaration of restrictive covenants in place to prevent such a situation from happening. The Town is now ignoring those restrictions. 

Q: Are the Sunflowers treated with Neonicotinoids at Pope Farm Conservancy?


Q: Do Neonicotinoid treated plants kill bees?

Yes “Neonicotinoids are a group of insecticides used widely on farms and in urban landscapes. They are absorbed by plants and can be present in pollen and nectar, making them toxic to bees. Four years ago, there was uncertainty about the impact these insecticides were having on bees. Research published since then clearly shows how neonicotinoids are killing bees or changing their behaviors”. (from the Xerces Society, please see article on this webpage).

Q: What can the Town do differently?

We believe the Town should use best practices in the Conservancy and eliminate the use of neonicotinoids in order to protect the pollinators.  (Please see more information below on the website)

Q: Why does the Pope-Zoerb family care about Sunflower Days?

The family has always been concerned about the long-term nature of the land.  The Town ended up with the property at no cost, and at the time the family was concerned how the land would be used in the future. Two things were important to the family:  that the Conservancy be free; and that it not be commercialized.  The family is very concerned with the way Sunflower Days is being handled by the town and its for-profit team.  We believe this is a long-term threat to the tranquil and passive nature of the land.

Q: Is the Pope-Zoerb family opposed to Sunflower Days?

No, in fact the family would support Sunflower Days if it was free and open to the public and if the Town used untreated Sunflower seeds.  If the Town followed the terms of the declaration of restrictive covenants, Sunflower Days and future events would not pose a long-term threat to the Conservancy.

Q: So, what is the solution to these concerns?

The Town is planning on closing all local parking and is essentially forcing people to ride shuttle buses for free, and will charge an entrance fee for viewing the sunflowers – making it a commercialized event.  The Pope-Zoerb family suggested the following compromise: Rather than restricting access and charging an admittance fee for Sunflower Days, the Town could easily charge a fee for a ride on the shuttle bus instead. For people who walk into the Conservancy, a suggested donation would be asked. The Town would generate enough revenue to make a profit, the Conservancy would remain free and open to the public, the restrictive covenants would be honored, and all parties would support the arrangement. The Town has refused to discuss this compromise with the family.


Pope Farm Conservancy: Background and Mission

For over 15 years, Pope Farm Conservancy has been a unique, free, open-to-the-public venue dedicated to preserving the land and telling its story. Previous owners Art and Betty Pope felt so strongly about this vision and mission that they included conditions and restrictive covenants in their sale agreement with the Town of Middleton to protect this vision. These restrictions require the Conservancy to be free and open to the public.

Unfortunately, now the Town of Middleton has openly violated this agreement by retaining a for-profit event marketing company to commercialize Sunflower Days and restrict public access.


We Need your Voice: Keep the Conservancy Free and Open to the Public

Tell them DO NOT commercialize Pope Farm Conservancy by turning Sunflower Days into a commercial event.

Contact Members of the Middleton Town Board

Board Chair Cynthia Richson (608) 658-6699

Richard Oberle (608) 826-0559

Brent Renteria (608) 571-7206

Denise Schmidt (608) 469-2937

Tom Stemrich (608) 628-4543


Neonicotinoid Sunflowers at Pope Farm Conservancy

Neonicotinoids Harm Pollinators

 Neonicotinoids found in treated sunflower seeds can kill bees.

Bee on Flower Jack Sherman credit final.

Suzanne Tucker - sunflower with smaller

Susan Carpenter Bee credit 2.jpg

Endangered bumblebee at PFC –versus the 2019 Neonic Sunflower field is a problem

Prairie shot Janie Starzewski with red c

How do other local municipalities protect pollinators from neonicotinoid pesticides in their parks or conservancies?

“Neonicotinoids are a group of insecticides used widely on farms and in urban landscapes. They are absorbed by plants and can be present in pollen and nectar, making them toxic to bees. Four years ago, there was uncertainty about the impact these insecticides were having on bees. Research published since then clearly shows how neonicotinoids are killing bees or changing their behaviors”. (from the Xerces Society, please see article on this webpage).

Susan Carpenter, from the UW-Madison Arboretum, discovered the presence of the rusty-patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) at Pope Farm Conservancy in 2017.  In that year, Susan wrote an article for the Friends of Pope Farm Conservancy, stating: “The rusty-patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) became the first bumble bee to be listed for protection as an endangered species at the federal level. This formerly common bee species has lost about 90% of its original range, and is now found only in small numbers in areas of the upper Midwest. Southern Wisconsin is still home to the rusty-patched bumble bee, and the species has been found at Pope Farm Conservancy, foraging in the forbs prairie.”

Unfortunately, the location where the rusty-patched bumble bee was discovered is only about 100 yards from the 2019 neonic sunflower field at Pope Farm Conservancy.


Pope Farm Conservancy Outreach and News


Pope Family, Town of Middleton Disagree on Charging Admission for Sunflower Days

Letter from the Pope and Zoerb Families to the Town of Middleton

Letter from the Pope and Zoerb Families to the Friends of the Pope Farm Conservancy

Letter from the Families' Attorney to the Town of Middleton

Letter to the Middleton Cross-Plains Times Tribune Regarding the Sale of the Pope Farm Conservancy to the Town

Letter to the Middleton Cross-Plains Times Tribune Regarding Neonicotinoids' Affects on Pollinators

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