Tom and Shaila Bolger

Like so many Wisconsin residents, Tom and Shaila Bolger have always had a love for the outdoors. While making a career in communications throughout Wausau and Madison and raising four children, the demands of work and family life kept them on-the-go. But whenever an opportunity arose to spend a weekend with friends in the woods of Richland County, they high-tailed it west. In 1970, a piece of property next to their friends’ property went up for sale; the Bolgers jumped at the opportunity to own their own piece of serenity.

Tom and Shalia Bolger
Tom and Shaila Bolger on their property in Orion Township.

The family eventually built a home on the property, added to the existing barn to create a horse stable, and in 1992, made the Richland County property their full-time residence. Countless days were spent riding horses, walking the trails, and hunting grouse.

“It’s a very pretty piece of property. Wherever you look, it’s our land and that’s a nice feeling. When people come out to visit they say, ‘Oh my gosh, is this relaxing,’” Tom says.

However, there was always a nagging feeling in the back of Tom’s mind.

“I was raised in an environmentally-conscious culture,” Tom explains, noting that his grandfather was the first head forester of the Wisconsin DNR, which at the time was called the Conservation Department. Tom also served as the state’s chairman to the Nature Conservancy.

So, while they were enjoying the recreational aspects of their property to the max, Tom knew there were proactive steps he should be taking to ensure the health of his woods.

Taking action

It was a postcard from My Wisconsin Woods that spurred Tom into action. The mailing offered an opportunity to meet with a Woodland Advocate – a neighbor who also owned woodlands and had experience managing them. Tom was intrigued and got in touch with his advocate, John Annear. Shortly afterward, they walked Tom’s 160 acres together. While Tom knew of John, the Richland Center police chief, it was his first time meeting him.

“I found John to be very helpful. He was knowledgeable but didn’t intrude. John would say, ‘I don’t know’ sometimes, but also, ‘Well, I’ve done this in this situation,’” says Tom. “You feel like you’re still in control, while getting good advice and learning. It’s a win-win.”

John also opened the door for Tom to engage with Mike Finlay, a Richland County DNR forester. The three met for another walk-through in the Bolgers’ woods. “Mike did a very good job of explaining what I could do in very simple terms, in manageable increments. It wasn’t overwhelming,” Tom says.

Tom and Shaila now split their time between Madison and Richland Center – about 50% of their time in the winter in Richland County and about 70% during the summer. Tom admits that the back-and-forth driving and growing older have been challenges towards getting work done on the land. But he’s also positive that the forester’s advice about managing invasive species and thinning and trimming trees in a select area will be carried out this spring.

“After we get Mike’s recommendations done, I’m going to go back to him and say, ‘what’s next?’” Tom says, expressing his gratitude for Mike’s expertise, John’s support, and the Woodland Advocate Program.

“If we would have gotten the postcard from My Wisconsin Woods 35 years ago, we would have been a lot further along with our stewardship program.”

Get started today by requesting a free property visit with your county DNR forester!