Virginia M. Kline Award Winners Don and Donna Justin


Justin Trails Resort – Rest, Relaxation, Recreation and Restoration

Saving the family farm has become a daunting task in the United States over the last several decades. Many have succumbed to real estate development, factory farming and lack of interest by younger generations. It takes ingenuity, flexibility and enormous effort to survive.

Don and Donna Justin have held on to their century-old farm in the driftless region near Sparta, now known as Justin Trails Resort, by partnering with a variety of environmental organizations, thinking outside the box and involving the community and their guests in restoration activities.

The property is now organically farmed in the flat lands, with the hills open for diverse outdoor activities for guests such as hiking through restored woodlands, disc golf, skijoring and llama trekking. They host educational and training events on topics such as invasive species identification and control, and prescribed burning.

This year, they are hosting a 5K trail run with proceeds going to trail and woodland maintenance. The disc golf community enjoys the course that snakes through the property, and is equally appreciative of the annual pass members earn with 8 hours of volunteering.

The Justins have partnered with a variety of environmental organizations to enhance and restore their property. In 2007, Nature’s Keeper Services, LLC entered into an informal, long-term management collaboration with the Justins.

Under the US Department of Agriculture’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program, 1.5 acres of land are rented to a local Hmong farmer as a market garden.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Partnership Program worked with the Justins on a 5-acre savanna restoration — now a prominent feature on the property.

The Wisconsin DNR Landowner Incentive Program supported efforts to restore 20 acres of previously high-grade forest and begin restoration on 10 acres of quality black oak savanna and goat prairie.

Most recently, 8 acres have been enrolled into the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, allowing restoration work in a previously grazed hollow that harbors three springs and a mixed white and red oak forest.

In order to promote these projects, Don and Donna have looked to their guests. The Justins found that most people wanted hands-on restoration activities.

For the past four years, they have offered “Worker Weekends,” where four hours of work is rewarded with a reduced fee for a stay at the Resort. The educational component is priceless.

Volunteers have had opportunities to participate in everything from prescribed burns to native seed collecting, exotic brush removal, and more. They go home tired, newly engaged in active conservation, and with a greater understanding of land stewardship.

“Their hard work has paid off in protecting critical habitat for native species while at the same time educating a wide range of citizens on the value of restoration and the natural world,” says Dawn Hinebaugh, Wisconsin DNR.

“In addition, Don and Donna are simply genuine, warm and welcoming citizens who capture the very essence of Virginia Kline’s life work through humanness, community ethic, and environmental awareness.”

Located between Lake Wingra and the West Beltline Highway at 1207 Seminole Highway, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum features the restored prairies, forests and wetlands of pre-settlement Wisconsin. This 1,260-acre arboretum also houses flowering trees, shrubs and a world-famous lilac collection. Educational tours for groups and the general public, science and nature-based classes for all ages and abilities, and a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for groups, families and individuals are available.