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Flowering Wild Orchid Found on Former Golf Course Blooms for First Time in 96 Years

By Southern Wisconsin Land Conservancy

(Brodhead, WI) – Now you can share your wedding vows with a rare orchid that has been hidden underground since 1926. Finally, the orchid bloomed this summer, after emerging from beneath fairway lawns that endured nearly a century of mowing on the former front nine of the Decatur Lake Golf Course.

Now called Three Waters Reserve (TWR), the 57-acres purchased in 2018 by Southern Wisconsin Land Conservancy (SWLC) are managed for native plants, wildlife and community enjoyment.

2022, is the first of many banner years for nature at TWR.

The once-maintained lawns in the fairways have given way to extensive sweeps of colorful native wildflowers on the restored prairies, oak savanna and wetland habitats. Formerly-mowed areas under the outreaching limbs of magnificent bur oaks are now home to rare and Wisconsin state-threatened plants: Including the stunningly-beautiful purple fringed orchid, kittentails and violet clover. The presence of these rare plants after only a few years of restoration suggests more surprises are likely in the future as the land continues to recover.

The land isn’t the only part of the golf course that experienced a major transformation. The former clubhouse, now freshly renovated, operates as an event center with in-house food and beverage services. In addition to hosting weddings, workshops, graduation parties and corporate events, Three Waters Reserve is also home to a fieldstation used for scientific research, and provides nature education opportunities like the upcoming Fall Foraging Workshop Series. In the final section, TWR’s resident chef, John Marks, will lead participants through transforming the foraged plants into magnificent meals (tickets at

SWLC’s Susan Lehnhardt (secretary) and Meredith Tripp (treasurer) commented, “We are so pleased and impressed with how the land is healing.” Lehnhardt continues, ”Not only is it a beautiful backdrop for events, it’s also an asset to the health of our watershed. The native vegetation soaks up rainfall and snowmelt like a sponge, mitigating erosion and eliminating nutrient-rich runoff from the golf course”.

In the same conversation, Chef John Marks said, “It’s been exciting to watch the connections with neighboring farms thrive as well. Visitors have really enjoyed TWR, and I’m pleased that the locally-grown food served at our events has been so appreciated”. SWLC’s president, Steve Apfelbaum, suggested, “ We and participating partners and visitors can’t wait to see what surprises are in store for the future”.

In addition to hosting private events, Three Waters Reserve also welcomes hikers to explore the public nature trails which are open year-round for passive recreation (visit for trail maps and rules). Visitors to the property will enjoy the sights and sounds of plentiful wildlife, including red-headed woodpeckers, sandhill cranes, pileated woodpeckers, red fox, bobcats, deer and more.

But, if it’s a unique wedding venue you seek, the awesome beauty of the rare purple fringed orchid welcomes you! Three Waters Reserve is the perfect place to plant the seeds of unforgettable memories with friends and family. After all, there may be few places better to begin a new future together. Visit annually to re-celebrate, as TWR is preserved for all generations to come.

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