2019 is in the books, and with it a lot of fond memories made in Madison Parks. Millions of visits across the system with people enjoying themselves, nature, and each other. I thought I would borrow from a fellow native Hoosier and make a top ten list. There are certainly more than 10 laudable things happening in Madison Parks daily, but I thought it was worth highlighting some very important ones on my list. What's on your list?
10. Law Park Planning – Since this is about Madison, I am starting with a plan. Plans should come first and thankfully, we have a good comprehensive one in our Park and Open Space Plan (POSP). Beyond the POSP, we work to develop master plans for specific parks to provide a guiding document for future development and/or improvements in the park system. In 2019, Madison Parks began work on a preliminary report for Law Park, located along Lake Monona adjacent to downtown. This project seeks to solve the vexing issue of a lakeshore and Downtown separated by a highway and 30 feet of elevation change. This is generational opportunity to better connect Madisonians to Lake Monona.
9. Dogs – Speaking of generational opportunities, we are working to significantly change the City's perspective on dogs in parks. If there is a single thing I have heard the most about in my role, it is dogs. We heard from more than 1,900 residents regarding dogs and parks through input provided at communitywide meetings, emails and a survey. These responses, in addition to thousands of additional contacts (many from the POSP process) we have had over the years led to staff drafting a new dogs in parks policy revised by Parks Long Range Planning Sub-Committee and approved by the Board of Park Commissioners. The policy is helping to revise the long-standing ordinance of no dogs to a standard of Yes Dogs! (in most places, at most times, on a leash, licensed, vaccinated, permitted, leashed, and with the owner picking up after the friendly canine). The North Star off-leash dog exercise area was approved in 2019, which is a much-desired amenity for the Eastside.
8. Public Access to Lakes – Speaking of desired amenities, there is nothing as clear as the desire for our community to connect to the lakes. The POSP clearly identifies this as the top priority for our work. We take this seriously and have invested in significant improvements to lake access for our community. Madison Parks is proud to offer boat launch locations, piers, shelters and restrooms, canoe storage, beaches Warner lot, canoe storage, piers, beaches and exclosures. By the numbers, in 2019, we issued 3,003 annual lake access permits, 4,561 daily lake access permits, 30 mooring permits, and 396 non-motorized boat storage permits. In addition, our partners served over 80,000 people through boat rental operations at four locations as well as over 4,000 children who participated in water-based camps (sailing, rowing, etc). Thousands more people visited the Biergarten at Olbrich Park or attended an event at a lakefront park. Finally, an untold number (hopefully every Madison resident and visitor) enjoyed being close to the lake on land they own.
7. Pollinators – Speaking of by the numbers, did you know that there are over 400 verified native bees of Wisconsin? Bees, as well as other pollinators, are critically important to humanity and working to protect pollinators is a critically important goal of the City. Parks is dedicated to implementing strategies to protect our friendly pollinators based on the work of the Pollinator Protection Task Force. Work continues across the system and you can learn more in this 2019 blog post featuring Goodman Pool and Odana Hills Golf Course and in Out & About Fall 2019 featuring the work at Washington Manor Park.
6. Flamingos! – Forward FC. – Speaking of pollination, flamingos are not phenomenal at it. However, they are quite formidable on the pitch. Forward FC's first season at Breese Stevens Field was a huge success with thousands witnessing the inaugural season culminate in a trip to the USL League One playoffs. (I did not know that North Texas was a state.) There were lots of memories made at Breese this year, but my personal favorite was watching kids participate in a clinic with the team as captured in the August winning image in the Madison Parks 2020 Calendar.
5. Elver Playground – Speaking of play, what is better than a rocking pirate ship? Well, a rocking pirate ship that is part of a fully accessible, inclusive playground at Elver Park. The playground is the 2nd in the system with more to come and is a great addition to Elver which has many other amenities for families, notably the fully accessible splash park just steps away from the new playground.
4. Connecting Kids to Nature – On the topic of play, Parks is proud of its continuing work to integrate nature-based play into the park system. Madison Parks was an original member of the National League of Cities and Children & Nature Network's joint effort to promote connecting children to nature. In 2019, our dedicated consultant Sonya Sankaran worked with kids at Bayview to design a nature nook play area at Brittingham Park. Staff have begun construction and are looking forward to its opening in the spring.
3. 20 years of WPCRC / KNOW – Speaking of construction, 2019 marked 20 years since the Warner Park Community Recreation Center was constructed. The Center had a birthday party by hosting an all-day "Party Like It's 1999" program. Its programs continue to engage the community and in particular the youth. The KNOW (Kids Need Opportunities at Warner) provides meaningful programs for youth at WPCRC and the Madison Parks Foundation has already raised approximately half of the $150,000 they have committed to the Center as a part of the Say Yes to KNOW campaign.
2. New Mayor and Alders - Speaking of WPCRC and the work we are doing to promote a more inclusive space focused on youth, about a decade ago an Alder from the 12th District told me that we needed to focus on our work at the Center on youth. In 2019, she was elected Mayor (she also served on the Pollinator Protection Task Force referenced above in #7). In addition, 9 new faces joined the Common Council. Together, the Mayor and Council provided significant important investments in the parks system in the 2020 Budget. Of lesser note, with the new Council and Mayor, I have had the pleasure of working with 66 individual Alders and three Mayors during my time with the City.
1. Acquisitions – Speaking of my time with the City, perhaps the proudest I have been to be a small part in great things for Madison Parks happened in 2019. Two times! The acquisition of the former State Medical Society building and land to expand Olin Park and the acquisition of a 40-acre parcel critical to the future Ice Age Trail (now known as Moraine Woods Park) are both gems added to the public park system for Madison today and forever. Both acquisitions have been long sought after and to achieve both in one year certainly made 2019 a great year for Madison Parks. These acquisitions will help to ensure that even more treasured memories will be made for generations to come.
As we move into 2020, I am looking forward to purposefully focusing on our vision and mission through continued growth, improvements and community engagement with our residents. You'll see more land acquisitions on the radar, and we'll continue to work on POSP strategies to address growing needs like recreational biking, cricket, sports fields, and lake access. We will also be focusing on assisting the Task Force on Municipal Golf in Madison Parks to complete its report in the spring. And dogs, there is always room for one more discussion on dogs.
Madison Parks Superintendent