Fil Sanna grew up in the Town of Vermont between Mount Horeb and Black Earth. After graduating from Edgewood High School in Madison, he left Wisconsin for upstate New York where he earned a bachelor’s in engineering and master’s in organizational behavior from Cornell University.
After a 15-year corporate career in IT, mostly in Boston and Chicago, Fil became an instructor for an outdoor experiential education school and, since 2013, has been leading young adults on wilderness expeditions and providing training in wilderness first aid in Alaska and the western United States. He has also led trips to Borneo, Nicaragua and Ecuador.
In 2014, Fil returned to Wisconsin to help his sister care for their mother, who was struggling with dementia in New Glarus. After their mother passed away in 2018, and while working on a book about his caregiving experience, Fil and a friend decided to buy and eventually donate land for habitat restoration.
“Lots of different steps happened pretty quickly and the whole thing mushroomed,” Fil says. “We found land much bigger than we were initially looking at, but we found the money and the Driftless Area Land Conservancy relationship evolved. We went from zero to 60 very quickly.”
Fil, whose role with the Spring Valley Tract is lead site steward, said the vision is for ecological resilience, sustainable agriculture and recreation to coexist. Instead of carving up and dividing land for exclusive purposes, Fil and DALC want to help different interest groups work together on the same footprint of land.
“We believe we can build coalitions and community with people of different skills and interests and ultimately end up with something better for the environment, agriculture and recreation,” he said.
—Sara Lomasz Flesch