Family, Tradition And Nature

Dennis and Mary Krueger of Waupaca County.

Dennis and Mary Krueger of Waupaca County. / Photo Credit: Krueger family

Family, tradition and nature are three strong pillars to build a happy and successful life. Just ask Dennis Krueger and his wife, Mary, who have made a family and a forest together.

“We have always believed in the importance of traditions in building memories,” Mary Krueger said.

They remember starting the tradition of an annual “Fall Walk in the Woods” in 1988, visiting the farm owned by Dennis’ grandfather. The idea was hatched when a teacher gave their eldest daughter (age 10) an assignment to collect different types of leaves.

“[We] picked an early October afternoon, loaded a backpack with plastic bags to collect leaves and nuts and brought a lunch of peanut butter sandwiches and apples,” Mary Krueger said. “[Our] daughters (ages 10, 8 and 5) and son (age 3) thought this to be the best picnic ever, as we walked a logging trail in a piece of the hardwoods on Grandpa’s farm and settled on a large rock on top of a hill to have lunch.”

Dennis Krueger spent four summers working on his father’s farm in rural Waupaca County during his youth. In 2002, he jumped at the chance to buy 40 acres of the property from his uncle.

Dennis and Mary Krueger welcome visitors to their property near Waupaca, named “The Land,” with a sign attached to a manure spreader that Dennis gave Mary — as a retirement gift. The spreader is used to spread pond weeds and leaves on food plots and a garden area to enrich the soil.

Dennis and Mary Krueger welcome visitors to their property near Waupaca, named “The Land,” with a sign attached to a manure spreader that Dennis gave Mary — as a retirement gift. The spreader is used to spread pond weeds and leaves on food plots and a garden area to enrich the soil. / Photo Credit: Krueger family

Three years later, they bought “the second 40” and named the property “The Land.”

“My uncle had four children who weren’t interested in farming, so as time went on, I got the chance to buy 80 acres,” Dennis Krueger said.

“It was great [keeping] everything in the family. God doesn’t make any more land, so we wanted to have land for our kids, grandkids and great-grandkids,” Dennis Krueger said.

About 20 acres of the original plot were already under DNR Managed Forest Law (MFL) supervision, which the Kruegers welcomed. Today, the Kruegers rent out a 16-acre field that is still farmed, and about 50 of the 80 acres are managed under MFL – however, they implement management practices across the whole property.

“We’re very pleased to be part of the MFL program,” said Dennis Krueger. “We get a little tax break on it and a little direction, which is healthy for the forest. You get help. A forester comes in and tells you what trees are best to harvest, and it’s a good thing.”

The results of the Kruegers’ work impresses visitors.

“We were walking through a part of the woods a while back, and the DNR person said, ‘this looks like a park,’” Dennis Krueger said.

Working on their property is much more than a Dennis-and-Mary operation. It has become a reason to bring the Kruegers’ four children and six grandchildren together. Usually, the all-hands-on-deck working weekend takes place in July, but there are other gatherings.

“We just put out the word, and everybody shows up,” Mary Krueger said. “Three of our children live in Wisconsin and one in New York. She usually gets home just for the July weekend, but if we put out a text that it’s a work weekend at ‘The Land,’ everyone tries to be a part of it.”

“There’s always food, games and fun, and that’s a great attraction.”

Mary Krueger said her oldest grandson, who is 14, just completed a tractor safety course and can now operate a tractor on the property.

“That’s a great plus for him, and it gets him more involved,” she said. “The others can drive the golf cart, but they all know the safety belts must be in place.”

The family has added a 40-by-63-foot shed, an open shelter, a raised-bed garden and a privy to the property to make their work weekends easier to manage — and to make camping weekends possible for family and friends.

Early on, the Kruegers planted six apple trees on the property, and when their son’s wedding was hosted at The Land, they added more fruit trees to the property. Another early project was planting spruce and balsam trees to provide a wind wall to block the northwest winds and protect a food plot – and to connect their newly purchased land to the old plot.

“They’ve gotten tall now, so we’ll thin them out a little bit,” Dennis Krueger said.

Later, they put in a couple of rows of white pine to divide a field, and those rows became a windblock for what has become a small apple orchard.

“One of the things we learned years ago is the best way to manage [a woodland] is to cut a little bit and leave a row or two,” Mary Krueger said. “The way to best regenerate new trees is the way we cut.”

“We’ve also started maples and oaks from seed with a little, fenced-in and screened nursery,” Dennis Krueger said.

The trees the fence has protected are now 10 feet tall, while those that weren’t fenced in are only 6 feet tall due to deer browsing. Eventually, the Kruegers plan to move 300 of those maples into the woods. Though they’ve acquired a tree planter, they’ll probably transfer the maples individually.

“It’s one thing to move a tree, but it’s another thing to keep them alive,” Dennis Krueger said.

Balsam and white pine line the lane welcoming visitors to Dennis and Mary Krueger’s property near Waupaca, named “The Land,” and also provide shelter for wildlife.

Balsam and white pine line the lane welcoming visitors to Dennis and Mary Krueger’s property near Waupaca, named “The Land,” and also provide shelter for wildlife. / Photo Credit: Krueger family

Mary Krueger said they’ve also planted various evergreens, bi-color and Fraser fir over the years. The family Christmas tree comes from the property, and they also cut some trees to donate to families in need.

When it’s time to plant, make big management decisions or harvest, they welcome advice from their DNR manager.

“They give us notice when it’s time to do a cutting, and they send in a forester to mark them,” Dennis Krueger said. “Then we go in and manage [the cutting] ourselves. It’s a slow process, but it’s OK if you keep working on it.”

Because only about 60% of the Kruegers’ property is subject to MFL management, the family has developed creative and helpful uses for the rest of “The Land.”

In 2005, the family had a Habitat Development plan approved, and wetland restoration began. Two ponds were dug, and other improvements were made.

These days, the annual “Fall Walk in the Woods” continues.

“As the kids grew, we had boyfriends and girlfriends come along, with hearts carved around their initials in trees,” Mary Krueger said. “Picture-taking also became more important and helped us document the years; sometimes the picture became our Christmas card.”

In addition, the Kruegers hold a September Birthday Bash weekend for friends and family to hike the paths, pick apples, pears and sometimes pumpkins and enjoy the land together.

The family has hosted mentored turkey hunts on their land, joined by a local group. They’ve even set up an improvised three-hole golf layout around one of their ponds and held fishing contests, rabbit hunts and even a kite-flying contest.

“Each season brings a new adventure at ‘The Land,’” Mary Krueger said. “The DNR’s MFL staff has been extremely helpful as we continue to improve the wooded areas.

“Whether we are cutting wood, mowing, trimming apple trees, gardening, planting a food plot or enjoying a campfire, we are thankful and feel that in learning and sharing what we have, we enjoy it even more.”

Written by Art Kabelowsky, DNR Forestry Outreach Specialist

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