The Stewards met for the first time on April 25, 2006. Our group worked on a name, mission statement, bylaws, and creating interest groups. We invited speakers from groups interested in similar protection and preservation missions: the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway, Baraboo Range Preservation Area, Wisconsin DNR, River Alliance, Gathering Waters, and Sauk Prairie River PAL. In September, we held our first annual meeting and elected officers.
Our first major activity was a fundraiser: the First Annual Music & Art Festival on September 23 in Bowman Park in the Dells. We ran an art contest (My Favorite Rock in the Dells) for school children, auctioned donated items and gave out door prizes, offered refreshments, and featured music groups from the area.
In the spring of 2007, we adopted a logo and developed a website for information concerning our efforts to protect and preserve the Dells of the Wisconsin River.
A water safety panel which included two DNR representatives, the Juneau County deputy who patrols the Upper Dells river corridor, a representative from Rep. Doc Hines office, and the Wisconsin Dells chief of police led a lively and productive discussion at our May meeting.
The Second Annual Stewards of the Dells Festival was held on September 22-23, 2007. The two-day festival began with The Art & Artistry of H.H. Bennett 3-D slide show was presented by Tim and Karen White on Saturday night at the H.H. Bennett Studio. The second day of the festival saw a crowd of more than 200 people enjoying a wide range of musical entertainment provided by the Raging Grannies, the Spare Time Bluegrass Band, the Sara Pace Band, and the Big House Tuba Quartet as well as a fundraiser auction.
In early November of 2007, Jim Welsh, executive director of the Natural Heritage Land Trust, notified us that his board of directors is willing to work with the Stewards to preserve and protect land in the Dells of the Wisconsin River State Natural Area acquisition zone. Frank and Mariana Weinhold were pioneers in their protection of Louis' Bluff last spring with help from the Natural Heritage Land Trust. The Wisconsin State Legislature approved a budget reauthorizing and increasing the Stewardship Fund, a key component of this process. We are making plans to offer this option to area landowners.
In May of 2008, Rick Durbin wrote, published, and donated proceeds from his book, The Kilbourn Dam: A Tale of Hopes, Dreams, and Schemes, to the Stewards. The publication party in mid-May was jointly sponsored by the Stewards, the Dells County Historical Society, and the Friends of the Kilbourn Public Library. The book is on sale for $25 at the H.H. Bennett Studio.
More than 100 area student artists and photographers entered the Third Annual Art and Photo contest. Because the contest has been moved from fall to spring, two contests were held during the 2007-2008 school year.
On June 9, after heavy rains, Lake Delton was drained by a new channel cut to the Wisconsin River in the Lower Dells. Although no one was hurt, the loss of four homes and the income generated by the lake had a profound effect on the community. Phillip White, an amateur videographer, recorded the day-long event and edited it to a half-hour DVD. On July 30, the Stewards invited the community to the first showing of The Draining of Lake Delton in the community room at the library. White donated the proceeds from the sale of the DVDs to two families who lost their homes.
The Stewards worked the Dells Wine & Cheese Festival at the Justagame Fieldhouse on October 3. The funds were earned by advance sale of tickets, sale of wine at the festival, sale of horse-drawn carriage rides, sale of holiday cards (produced and donated by Jack and Mary Waterman), and a raffle featuring a kayak donated by Easton Dreher of Vertical Illusions and a hot air balloon ride.
In November, Anne Klein purchased property on Stand Rock Road with rocky shoreline on the Old River Bed behind Black Hawk Island. She has contacted the Stewards about preserving the land from development, and we voted to work with the Natural Heritage Land Trust to create a conservation easement on her property. (This plan was later canceled out of concern that the piece of land was too small to warrant the large amount of money we'd have to raise.)
At the same November, 2008 meeting Wisconsin DNR Regional Warden Barb Wolf reported that after working with Steward Bill Federbusch, who leads the Boating Safety Committee, and conducting their own studies, the DNR will work toward creating a Slow No Wake zone in the Narrows of the Upper Dells.
On April 18, 2009, the First Annual Dells Riverfest featured crew teams from Northern Michigan, Marquette University, Milwaukee School of Engineering, and Lawrence University for a 2000 m sprint from the south end of Blackhawk Island to the Drinker Dock. Kayak racers competed, and we hosted a business kayak race. The Rotary Club and Holy Cross Episcopal Church provided concessions.
The Town of Newport voted to require building along the Lower Dells shoreline to be set by 100 feet from the ordinary high water mark (OHWM). This is 25 feet further back than county regulations.
Signs visible from the river were prohibited by the City of Wisconsin Dells in 2009.
Winners of the annual Art and Photo Contest were featured on placemats used in several local restaurants.
Several Stewards members who formed the Concerned Citizens of Newport joined with the River Alliance and filed suit against the WI DNR and the Grand Cambrian developers for allowing a grading permit for condos which would detract from the scenic beauty of the Lower Dells. In June of 2009, a settlement was announced which requires a 150-foot building setback from the OHWM. The Natural Heritage Land Trust will administer the conservation easement.
In July we re-visited our project creating a safe no-wake zone in the Narrows of the Upper Dells.
In September we hosted the Second Annual Wine and Cheese Festival fundraiser at JustAgame Fieldhouse.
Adoph Priester died on November 26. His family directed memorials to the Stewards.
The Second Annual Dells Riverfest was held on April 17, 2010 featuring a triathlon: 2K kayak race, 5K run, and 30K bike race.
The WI DNR Board approved an emergency no-wake zone in the Narrows effective for the summer of 2010.
Winners were announced for the 5th Annual Art and Photo Contest. The contest was discontinued.
On June 23, the Stewards hosted the Framing the Future Forum in the Bennett Studio Gallery where HHFastforward by photographer Bill Pielsticker featured then and now images of HH Bennett. A panel of river experts: Steve Rodenkirch of DNR, Dan Gavinski of Dells Boat Tours, Jay Toth of the Ho-Chunk Nation, and Mariana Weinhold of Louis Bluff -discussed their observations of changes apparent between Bennett's and Pielsticker's photos. The show was purchased by local donors for the Bennett Studio in June of 2013 and hangs in the upstairs gallery of the Studio.
In September of 2010, the no-wake zone in the Narrows became permanent by action on the state legislature.
In October of 2010, Sara Rath published H.H. Bennett, Photographer: His American Landscape which she dedicated "For Debbie Kinder, great-granddaughter of H.H. Bennett, and the Stewards of the Dells,working to protect and preserve the natural beauty of the Dells of the Wisconsin River."
The Third Annual Dells Riverfest was held on April 16, 2011 featuring a triathlon: 1 K kayak race moved to Crandall Bay (the slough) because of dangerous high water and snow, 5K run, and 10-mile bike race.
Stewards toured Kingsley Bend Indian Mounds in May with Rob Nurre. We offered to work with the Ho-Chunk Nation on their restoration of this site to oak savannah.
The Fourth Annual Dells Riverfest Triathlon was held on June 8, 2012 featuring the kayak-run-bike triathlon. Riverfest was discontinued after 2013.
In June of 2012, Easton Dreher spoke on our behalf at the dedication of the Village of Lake Delton's Newport Park on the Lower Dells. Our donation of $1,000 and letter of support helped to secure Knowles-Nelson Stewardship funds for the park.
On July 27, 2013 the Stewards celebrated the 150th anniversary of John Muir's hike through the Dells with an afternoon at Louis' Bluff.