Aldo Leopold’s Family Shack and Farm
By Thomas J. Straka
Photography by Patricia A. Straka
This travel destination is little more than a shack.
Not even a nice shack.
It was remodeled out of an abandoned chicken coup!
In 1935, when the Dust Bowl drought was still teaching
homesteaders the dangers of cultivating marginal croplands, Aldo
Leopold, a forester and wildlife professor from the University of
Wisconsin, bought a worn out farm along the Wisconsin River for a
weekend family retreat.
This farm served as the main inspiration for the
Sand County Almanac.
A wooden bench in the style used at the shack.
There is much fancy woodwork on display at the center.
A wooden bench more of the quality actually used at the
On weekends and school breaks, Leopold, his wife, and five children
attempted to mend the farm.
They planted pines and hardwoods.
The drought killed much of the early plantings, but
eventually the farm was restored to woodlands that served as a
classroom illustrating ecological relationships for the family.
Leopold’s experiences on the farm shaped his philosophy on
man’s relationship to the land, a sort of land ethics. It is one of
the foundations of Sand County
Almanac and modern
The shack is well-known to anyone who is familiar with conservation
or environmental literature.
There is a good chance your child has read it. It forms the
foundation for modern conservation thinking. In terms of
environmental literature it has the same standing as
Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond.
It is a National Historic Landmark due to its impact on
conservation, land ethics, and the environmental movement.
Much of the quality time at the Shack
will be spent on the
trail system that meanders the property. Here the shack is
visible in the distance from one of the trails.
There is no real Sand County.
The term is used to describe a group of sandy Central
Wisconsin counties that used to be the bed of Glacial Lake
Wisconsin. The farm and
shack are in Sauk County, near Baraboo, Wisconsin.
The property is now owned by the Aldo Leopold Foundation.
There is a sign at the exit on the nearby interstate 90/94.
The foundation has protected the property and built an
interpretative and education center near the shack, the Leopold
Center. It is a “green building” and interesting just for its design
and timber structure.
They brag it is one of the greenest buildings in the world.
The building is full of Leopold displays and information.
The farm and shack are part of the property.
As the material Leopold used to develop
Sand County Almanac, it is
intended to serve to “inspires many to re-discover their connections
to the natural world” and allows thousands of visitors annually to
be “inspired through reflection in the same landscape that deeply
moved Leopold.” Make no mistake, if you have not read and been
Sand County Almanac
, you likely won’t get much from the experience of the farm and shack.
But, if you have experienced the book and philosophy, the
shack and the emotional experience of being places described in the
book will prove fascinating.
The trail system makes it way
down to the Wisconsin River.
must have done much pondering from this spot.
The site is complete and remains
Even the “plumbing” is still
There is a Wisconsin historical marker that explains Leopold:
“There are some who can live without wild things, and some who
cannot.” For those who cannot, Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County
Almanac helps reveal the unsuspected natural riches hidden in
these sand counties of Wisconsin. At
the core of Aldo Leopold’s writing is the concept of a land ethic in
which love and respect for the land are the guiding principles. He
believed that public conservation efforts had little chance of
success unless private individuals felt a strong personal
responsibility for the health of the land.
In 1935, driven to action by this philosophy, Leopold purchased a
Sand County farm “worn out and then abandoned by our
bigger-and-better society” and “selected for its lack of goodness
and its lack of highway.” There the Leopold family spent twelve
years of time and effort changing their 80 acres of desolation into
a showpiece of native Wisconsin habitat complete with abundant
wildlife and restored natural landscape. In so doing, Aldo Leopold
left us an inspiring example of the land ethic in action.
Tom Straka is a forestry professor at Clemson University in
South Carolina. His
wife, Pat, is a consulting forester.
Both have a keen interest in history.
Aldo Leopold Foundation:
Aldo Leopold Foundation – The Aldo Leopold Family Shack and Farm
Aldo Leopold Foundation – Aldo Leopold
Aldo Leopold Foundation – Visit the Leopold Center
Excerpts from the Works of Aldo Leopold