Our Wisconsin: Gaylord Nelson - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Our Wisconsin: Gaylord Nelson

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Gaylord Nelson grew up outside, like a lot of Wisconsin kids.

But his upbringing had a unique effect and created America's first environmentalist politician.

As Wisconsin governor in the early 1960's, Nelson established one of the nation's first systems to buy and maintain land for state parks, one of which, on Madison's Lake Mendota, bears his name. 

In 1962, Nelson was elected to the U.S. Senate. But his success as a conservation crusader made him an outsider. 

"When he was elected, there was no such thing as an environmentalist," says his daughter, Tia.

She says her father initially struggled to get his issues and ideas about preserving and protecting the environment noticed, let alone accepted. 

But, Nelson's admirers say his deep, genuine commitment eventually convinced others to follow.

And, while he struggled to convince Washington insiders, Senator Nelson found a large, receptive audience to one of his ideas outside the Beltway: Earth Day, when 20 million Americans participated to help save the planet.

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