Beckers host Open Woods event
Family has owned land in rural Weyauwega since 1886
By Greg Seubert
All Merlin Becker wanted was some land for deer hunting.
He ended up with one of the state’s most unique woodland properties.
Becker, his wife, Georgie, and their family hosted an Open Woods event May 18 on their North Military Road property north of Weyauwega as part of the Wisconsin Woodland Owners Association’s 40th anniversary.
Becker said it was an easy decision to purchase the 168-acre property, known as the Becker Woodland, in 1967. It had been in his family since his grandfather, Gust Kapitzke, bought the land in 1886 for farming.
“I had 80 acres lined up in the town of Helvetia,” Becker said. “My dad said, ‘Why do want to buy a cedar swamp when Grandpa’s nice farmland is for sale?’ It just happened to be available. The timing was right and the price was right.”
Becker’s first major project was to plant 12,000 red pines on sandy soil that used to be a potato field. Since then, he’s planted more than 20,000 other trees on his land.
“You could only grow a decent crop where the red pine are growing if it would rain every other day and you could fertilize it once a week,” he said.
Becker and Ben Baumgart, a state Department of Natural Resources forester who serves Waupaca County, led tours through the plantation, that now includes trees that are more than 50 feet tall.
While Becker and Baumgart led one group through the plantation, Hugh Hayes took another group through a hardwood forest that included oaks, maples and pines.
A family legacy
Hayes has had a special connection to the property over the years.
“He happened to buy my grandparents’ house on the corner and was the only DNR forester for Waupaca County in 1967 when I bought the property,” Becker said. “He would be looking out the window and he’d say, ‘Well, if I were you, I’d plant red pine all across the road,’ so we planted 12,000 red pine. He said, ‘Gee, you have nice hardwoods next to you, I’d build an animal highway for the deer to travel from that woodland to my woodland.’ I probably talked to Hugh every other weekend because we lived in Appleton back then and I came up here every weekend.”
The red pine planation is just one of the suggestions from Hayes that Becker ran with.
“The soil type is what makes it different,” Hayes said. “It’s sandy, so it dictated that we plant red pine, which is suited to that type of soil. A lot of effort went into the planting and the mowing. Merlin and his brother would be out there pushing hand-pushed lawn mowers between the rows to keep the grass from lodging in the trees. That resulted in very good survival, pushing 100 percent. It changed from a liability to a valuable, productive resource.”
The Becker Woodland includes pine and spruce plantations, wildlife corridors, natural hardwood stands, a wetland area and wide open spaces and also serves as a demonstration forest for the Golden Sands Resource Conservation & Development Council.
The land has also given up its share of deer over the years, according to Becker.
“We’ve tagged 333 bucks on the property since ‘67,” he said. “We have statistics of who bagged them and how many points.”
Managing for diversity
Becker enrolled in the state’s Managed Forest Law program, which encourages sustainable forestry on private woodland. Landowners pay reduced property taxes in exchange for following sound forest management.
“The biggest problem I have is invasive species: spotted knapweed, purple loosestrife, garlic mustard, buckthorn, honeysuckle,” Becker said. “I don’t mind the buckthorn because the deer enjoy eating that.”
Hayes said Becker’s hardwood forest has changed over the years.
“When I first came here, you could see from one end of the property to the other because of the huge trees and no undergrowth,” he said. “Now, there’s undergrowth of desirable species. It was over-mature when I first moved here and our objective was to achieve a diversity of size classes. We’re achieving that after 52 years.”
Becker already has a plan in place for the property’s future.
“The plans are already in writing in my will,” he said. “My son Scott, who lives on the property with his family, will inherit that. The 80 acres of farmland where I was born and raised a mile north of Manawa, that’s going to go to my daughter, Brenda, who lives in Manawa. My grandpa bought this property in 1886. Cody, my grandson, is the fifth generation. There aren’t a lot of five-generation woodlands around the state.
“We were born and raised into this,” he added. “I don’t think this property will change any hands as long as Scott’s around.”