The formation of the Winona County SWCD actually grew out of earlier work completed in 1934 and 1935 by the Soil Erosion Service. This work consisted of erosion control projects completed in the Root River Valley and was in response to sheet erosion prevention, stream development, reforestation and check dam development. At that time the Soil Erosion Service now called the (Natural Resource Conservation Service) recognized the value and importance of having locally led conservation groups to act as a liaison between the federal government and the local farmer. This was also recognized by the Minnesota legislature, who in 1937 passed an Enabling Act to give people of the State of Minnesota power to form Soil Conservation Districts.
Largely due to one man's efforts the first soil and water conservation district formed in Minnesota, as well as the first district in the Milwaukee region was founded in Winona County. This district was called the Burns-Homer-Pleasant Soil Conservation District and it was formed along those watershed boundaries.
Burns-Homer-Pleasant Soil Conservation District was officially formed in 1938. The founding supervisors were Carl Goetsman, Palmer Erickson, William Zenk, Aleo Papenfus and Clint Dabelstein. Dabelstein, who was born in Winona County and who operated a farm since 1919, decided that he and the land had had enough. An early interview stated he was sitting in a vulnerable place in the valley every time the water would drain down. Dabelstein was determined not to let good farm land erode into the Mississippi River. To accomplish this Clint believed the only way to get people interested in conservation was to show them what could be done. So in 1935 largely due to Clint's determination, the Soil Erosion Service started a three year demonstration project. Federal money and manpower went into experimental practices such as tree planting, terracing and strip cropping. Over this time period people began seeing the importance of those practices. The surrounding landscape changed from a heavily eroded and low yield condition into some of the most beautiful and well conserved land in the state. Clint's efforts paid off in 1938 with the creation of the Burns-Homer-Pleasant Soil and Water Conservation District. Clint Dabelstein made soil conservation happen in Winona County.
It was common practice in the 30's to form soil and water districts around watersheds boundaries. Shortly after the formation of the Burns-Homer-Pleasant District, the Rollingstone-Stockton-Gilmore Creek District was formed and was the second SWCD formed in the state. The original board members were Bernard Wachholz, John Bergler, Ed Snell, Alvin Herber and Joe Reis.
In 1941, the third district in the county and ninth in the state was formed and was called the Whitewater Soil and Water Conservation District. Its original board members were Matt Marnarch, William Holz, Walter Grane, John Weins and E.J. Steuernagel.
Since it was a common practice at that time to organize districts around watersheds, little attention was given to county boundaries. However this practice caused a certain amount of conflict with County offices. With increasing pressure from the county and the state, the merging of the Rollingstone-Stockton-Gilmore Creek District along with the Whitewater District merged in 1958 to become the Winona Soil and Water Conservation District. Original members were Charles Taylor, Robert Wessell, Norman Heim, Ralph Herber and Howard Anderson.
At that time Clint Dabelstein was still Chairman of the Burns-Homer-Pleasant District and was dead set against consolidation. He felt consolidation would do more harm than good and the distinction of being the first SWCD formed in the Sate would be lost. As the years went on and largely due to Clint's death in 1986, consolidation was imminent. So in 1986 the Burns-Homer-Pleasant District and the Winona District merged to become the Winona County Soil and Water Conservation District. Giving it the distinction being the first district and one of the last districts formed in the state. Board members at that time were Eugene Kalmes, Russell Church, Don Diekrager, Len Greden and Jim Riddle.
Since the very beginning roots of the SWCD, many people, supervisors and staff have been involved in protecting our natural resources. From federal employees to district employees, a who's who of conservationist has worked in Winona County. These efforts have certainly paid off in the protection of our farm land. The modern day SWCD has changed dramatically, but still keeps that oath of protecting our resources for future generations.