Catawba: Spotlight on Ron Burger, Wildlife Enthusiast
UPDATE: Ron Burger will be on Channel 12 on Friday at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. (with the longer version of the interview airing at 6 p.m.)
"I do what I do because I love animals, plants, and nature, and I care about our environment," said Ron Burger, a Catawba resident, who has been providing wildlife a refuge, sanctuary, and a place to grow at his residence, known as High & Tight Acre, a Monarch Wildlife Wayside Refuge. He chose "High & Tight acre" because it reflects his desire to keep things in the Marines' way.
Ron was born in Milwaukee in 1958 and spent his childhood in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. The thing he most enjoyed was spending time with his good friend, Ron Serbian. They would go fishing, boating, water skiing, and enjoyed going to parties with some of their other friends.
His love for the environment likely stemmed from attending Trees for Tomorrow camp, a two to three week fall session, in Eagle River when he was in 10th grade. The following summer he attended Statehouse Lake YCC Camp, which was a forestry camp in Manitowish Waters.
He graduated high school in 1977 and moved to Phillips for a few years working for the forestry department, plus working in the woods logging near Winter with the owner of what was then Shane's Harbor but is now Harbor View, where he also worked nights in the kitchen and did some waiting of tables and a little bartending. Ron was put out of work when the owner died about a year later, so about a year after that he moved to Galesburg, Michigan to work on a hunter jumper horse farm for four years. He then moved to Kentucky to further his career in horses working with and breeding thoroughbred race horses.
Ron said he has already lived his dream job, which was truck driving, which he started in Kentucky, hauling race horses, mares, foals, million dollar yearlings, and stallions. Later, he went into hauling freight across the 48 states and Canada. His good friend, Bill Crummel, an over-the-road (OTR) truck driver was the person who most influenced his choice of career, even though Ron knew he wanted to be a truck driver since he was about four years old. "That was something I always said I wanted to be, and when I met my friend and his family many moons ago, he was the one that influenced me the most. I said one day I'm going to be like him, and I did. I planned on being in a truck a lot longer than I was for 24 years, but life got in the way and I had to come off the road on September 25, 2015. I was a proud truck driver with a safe driving career and recorded millions of miles."
Ron also had his own landscaping business, Jack of all Trades.
Once Ron had to retire from driving truck, he moved back to Phillips on May 17, 2009 after living in Kentucky, Georgia, and Tennessee for over twenty years. He moved in with his brother for a number of months while he looked for a job and a place to rent. He found a job at a corporate farm and the property of his dreams on Hwy. 111. "I had this vision of what I wanted to do here and create, but there was a stipulation that came with the house," Ron said with a heavy heart. "It was for sale, but the moment I walked into it I had this strange feeling like I never had with another home I've lived in." The problem was that, like many, Ron did not have good enough credit at the time to buy the house he loved so much. For eight years he watched, with a lump in his throat, as potential buyers came through the home considering buying it. Meanwhile, he tended to the property as if it was his own. "I started adding plants and doing things here that were beneficial to Monarchs and other wildlife. This site provides milkweeds, nectar sources, and shelter needed to sustain Monarch butterflies as they make their spectacular migration through North America. I have a source of shelter, water, food, and places to raise young."
With all the work he was doing, he had a goal to one day buy the property and to make it a protected area for animals. He had a focus on helping to save the Monarch butterfly, which was declining in number. "I started planting and creating certain things to promote the traffic of wildlife knowing that there was a big decline in the Monarch population due to no food for them in this area because of the heavy usage of pesticides that have killed off most of their food supply, mostly being milkweed, but there are also lots of other plants they depend on. I saw it fitting to start planting milkweed and other types of plants here to attract them and to try and bring the Monarch back to Northern Wisconsin and surrounding areas of the Midwest to how it once was when I was growing up. It has taken 8 years to get it to this stage of this project because it takes awhile for the plants to grow and to really start producing and for the many species of birds and butterflies to find them . Every year in the last few years I've been noticing more and more Monarchs coming around, as well as other creatures that I never used to see much of around here, and in my book, that tells me something...that it's working and a success."
Ron said he always treated the property like it was his even though he was just renting it, and 24/7 in the back of his mind was that one day he would own it. Luckily for Ron, none of those potential buyers panned out except for one. That one, in Ron's eyes, was a miracle that happened the day before his 60th birthday, causing a huge weight to be lifted off his shoulders. "Someone did buy my house and took a chance on me and gave me the opportunity to buy it, and now everything that I have worked so hard on here will not have been in vain because of this one special person that came into my life and gave me a brighter outlook. No one has ever done for me what that person has done and for that I owe that person everything. I don't think that person will ever know how happy they have made me." Ron said that being able to buy his house has brought him the most happiness in life.
Along with building his Monarch Wildlife Wayside Refuge, his next goal is to get funded or be able to raise enough money to buy twenty plus acres of land close to where he lives as an extension of his project. He said it would be a much bigger place to be able to better meet the needs of all wildlife and endangered animals. "I am very passionate when it comes to any wildlife but in regard to endangered plants and animals, I am the same if not more so passionate, and I'd like that place to be an educational place for the community and other wildlife lovers and enthusiasts, getting more people involved."
Ron supports the Wolves Worldwide and Science of Wolves, along with the Endangered Species Act. He does volenteer work for the Northwoods Wildlife Center in Minocqua. "I am a drop-off point and location for injued or orphaned wildlife through Northwoods Wildlife Center and a drop-off point and rescue transport driver for injured and orphaned wildlife. I don't hunt. I shoot them with a camera, not a gun. I am 99% vegetarian. The only meat source I do eat is fish."
On March 31, 2017, the High & Tight Acre became certified as an official Monarch habitat through Monarch Watch and Waystation. On April 10, 2017, it became a Certified Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation. The property is also a pesticide-free zone through Pesticide Free Zone.
Ron describes himself as "old school." "One of my favorite and most used mottos is honor, respect, loyalty, and disipline. That's how I roll." He also said that if he could pick a time period to live in, he'd choose the 1800s. "I have always had a thing for the old western days and Native Americans. I love and respect them for what they stood for and their way of life."
The Endangered Species Coalition is having an event at High & Tight Acre, A Monarch Wildlife Wayside Refuge on Saturday, May 19, 2018 at N6282 Hwy.111 in Catawba. "I am honored and privledged that they have picked Monarch Wildlife Wayside Refuge to hold this event. Wisconsin's very own field representative for the Endangered Species Coalition, Melissa Smith, will speak on behalf of the coalition and discuss milkweed garden planting and answer any questions anyone may have." You can view the Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/MonarchWildlifeWaysideRefuge to find out more details about Ron's goals. To learn more about the ESA Day Event, visit the Facebook Event page at http://www.facebook.com/events/2078591405690405
[Edited by My Price County Administrator on Jun 14, 2018 at 11:11 PM]