WASHBURN COUNTY -- Washburn County Lakes & Rivers Association (WCLRA) lost one of its best friends and supporters with John’s recent passing. WCLRA is privileged to have known and benefited from John’s work over many years. When we think of John Haack, “water wise” is a one fitting way to describe him and we are proud to highlight some of his many contributions to protect and preserve natural resources.

John loved nature and was deeply knowledgeable about Wisconsin’s water and land resources. He was a born educator as he enthusiastically shared his knowledge, whether it was a presentation to a large group or an individual conversation. He understood that helping others better understand ecology was the best way to motivate them to protect our natural resources. He was an inspiration to those who worked with him as volunteers and colleagues.

In his role as the Regional Natural Resources Educator for UW-Extension, John would often show up at a WCLRA Board meeting with an idea for a new project. After describing the project, he told us what role he would play and then described what would be required of us. Some of these projects were big, like the Wild River designation for the Totogatic River, and some were much smaller like buying the snorkeling equipment kept at Hunt Hill Audubon Sanctuary for use by 4-H and other youth camps.

John was instrumental in launching the drive to obtain the Totogatic’s Wild River status in 2009. Because he was such a good listener, tuned in to views both pro and con, he was able to develop a plan for gaining the support of local residents and government leaders. He recruited others, including WCLRA, to collaborate on that effort and guided us along the way. Projects like this require a lot of patience, and John was always quick to offer words of encouragement.

Perhaps John is best known regionally for organizing the Northwest Wisconsin Lakes Conference and several other local lake conferences which preceded it. He identified venues and issues, recruited speakers, and often gave presentations himself. His fascinating talks about frogs were fun and packed with interesting information. He often brought along a large bull frog or other “critter” as a co-presenter, which was popular with all ages. He also created a “Learn About Your Lakes” program for people new to living on northern Wisconsin lakes and participated in the DNR’s Wild Lakes preservation efforts.

In 2011 John was honored as a “Local Hero of the St. Croix” for his work in protecting the St. Croix River basin in Wisconsin and Minnesota. As an active partner in the St. Croix Basin Water Resources Planning Team, he helped translate the science into practical messages and actions for citizens and communities. The award said, “John uses every ‘teachable moment’ to help audiences of all ages find their role in protecting the St. Croix basin’s flora, fauna, lakes, wetlands, forests, shorelands, and rivers.”

Among John’s other significant contributions to the preservation of Washburn County’s natural resources are the creation of the Stone Lake Community Wetland Park, establishing the Master Gardener and Master Naturalist programs, and teaching numerous classes at Hunt Hill.

After his retirement in 2017, John remained busy with his family and outdoor hobbies which included raising honeybees and harvesting and processing wild rice. At the same time, he kept in touch with WCLRA and continued providing guidance when needed.

We are grateful for all of John’s excellent work and the many ways he inspired us—and continues to inspire us.


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