Celebrating 50 Years of Conservation Parks: Spotlight on Owen Conservation Park

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Madison Parks continues its celebration of 50 years of conservation parks with an event and video spotlight featuring a hidden west side treasure. Nearly 97 acres, Owen Conservation Park was once the farm and personal retreat of former University Professor Edward Owen, a driving force, along with John Olin, behind the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association. In the 1890s Owen built a summer home and terraced gardens on this wooded hilltop. Although Owen’s original summer home burned in the mid-1960s, visitors today can hike the three miles of trails through the restored areas and past historical features like stone walls, terraces, the farmhouse, and the old carriage road.

As you enter the park from Old Sauk Road, the tree-lined drive leads you to a small parking lot, restroom building, and the trailhead. Be sure to look east on a clear day for a view of the University campus and downtown Madison. From farmlands and pastures, restoration of the park to native woods, savanna, and prairie, which started in the 1980s, continues today. Visitors will see a palette of blooming wildflowers bursting with color, providing a buffet for butterflies and bumble bees The central portion of the park has been reestablished as native tallgrass prairie vegetation, where many nesting birds and wildlife call home.

A volunteer group is helping to make positive impacts to the land. Paul Quinlan, Madison Parks Conservation Resource Supervisor calls the Friends of Owen Conservation Park a powerhouse. “A newly established friends group has really just been a powerhouse since the pandemic. They've taken on everything from pulling garlic mustard to starting to do controlled burns to help us expand our fire footprint in the park,” Quinlan shared.  The group host work parties and educational events and are always looking to recruit more volunteers.

Owen Conservation Park may be Madison’s best-kept secret. One online review of the park reads in part, “I went there when the sun was setting and felt like I was in a fairytale.” Interested in learning more? Experience Owen Conservation Park firsthand with a guided Conservation Park Tour on Wednesday, July 13 starting at 6p.m. If you can’t make the event, you can always explore on your own, or join the monthly Bird & Nature Adventures event, hosted on the 2nd Saturday of each month, year-round.