Friends groups collaborate with Ho-Chunk Nation on park projects

The Four Lakes Region of Dane County, known as Teejopeja by the Ho-Chunk, is ancestral land of the Ho-Chunk Nation (HCN) and Peoples. Naturally, some of that sacred land is located in County Parks.

The Foundation for Dane County Parks (FDCP), Dane County Parks (DCP), and many Friends groups have worked on equity and inclusion plans. In our efforts, it has become extremely apparent that we need to bring the voices of the Ho-Chunk into partnership concerning the historical, cultural, and natural resources of our parks and trails.

It is imperative to directly involve the HCN in interpreting their own history on a cultural landscape that is their ancestral homeland. The HCN has been connected to this land for millennia; and even though they were forcibly removed, with resilience many returned home. It is also important to consider how to best interpret Teejopeja for park visitors of diverse backgrounds in order to educate them on this deep human history and ensure that the landscape is preserved for generations.

DCP and Friends groups, including the Friends of McCarthy Park (FMP) and the Friends of Capital Springs Recreation Area (FOCSRA), have had the opportunity to receive consultation and collaboration from Bill Quackenbush. Quackenbush is a Ho-Chunk Deer Clan Tribal Member, who serves as the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and Cultural Resources Division Manager for the HCN of Wisconsin. He was listed recently as one of Wisconsin’s 39 most Influential Native American Leaders by Madison365. Quackenbush states that we have a grand opportunity with the following projects. “I think it’s important to acknowledge how vital a role the various Friends groups play in assuring our parks receive the love and care they do,” he wrote. These can pave the way for future collaborative efforts. We are grateful for Quackenbush’s help.

Friends of McCarthy Park

McCarthy Youth & Conservation County Park features 285 acres of prairie, wetland, and oak savanna that hug Koshkonong Creek in Cottage Grove. This setting beautifully integrates with the Ho-Chunk community cultural educational project that has been evolving there since 2014.

Ciporoke Frame at McCarthy Park

Today, visitors can experience self-guided trailside interpretive nodes, cultural learning opportunities, and demonstration sites, including: a traditional garden at the agricultural lifeway site, a traditional ciporoke (round house)at the summer/fall camp site, a storytelling area (with a Little Free Library replenished with Native American books) at the landscape narrative site, and a young maple tree stand for future sugar-bushing at the spring camp site.

The community cultural educational idea within the context of a county park stemmed from the capstone project that UW-Madison student Amanda Depagter pursued under the guidance of Professor Janet Gilmore. Depagter was inspired by a Ho-Chunk presentation Quackenbush previously gave during her class with Professor Patty Loew. “The educational sites within the park are organic and, as such, lend themselves to continued hands-on community engagement, in which Bill has been instrumental in continuing to share his knowledge and perspective with the local community,” Depagter said.

Over the years, the collaborative efforts to develop and maintain these sites have included Dane County Park Planner Chris James and Forester Specialist Adam Alves, the Friends of McCarthy Park, and staff and students from the Prairie Phoenix Academy Lincoln Elementary School and the Madison-based Ho-Chunk Youth Group. Various local schools and the Mount Horeb Historical Society have also participated in the park’s learning opportunities. Quackenbush said the “practical workable nodes” can also be used by his tribe and others, because the “location lends itself well for cultural related discussion topics.”

“These meetings have been very educational and a wonderful opportunity to learn from each other, which were part of Russel and Ellie McCarthy's goal for the park (when they donated the land in 1974),” said Karen Bailey, President of the Friends of McCarthy Park. She noted that the HCN Youth are invited to Youth Service Day at McCarthy Park on April 30th.

Canoe logs at McCarthy Park

The Ho-Chunk Nation donated most of the demonstration sites and Dane County Parks donated trees, logs, and seating rocks, so no additional grant funding has been requested to date for the McCarthy Park project. Depagter, Quackenbush, and volunteers with the Friends of McCarthy Park have also contributed many hours of their own time.

“It wasn’t possible any other way than a whole lot of people putting their minds and hearts together to make it happen,” Quackenbush said. “I find myself oftentimes staying well past dark on the property, as it serves as a form of medicine for one’s soul after a hard day’s worth of work has taken place. Most worthwhile efforts usually come down to the unwritten costs most give of themselves and families to make such opportunities available for others to enjoy.”

Friends of Capital Springs Recreation Area                                

The Capital Springs Recreation Area (CSRA) features 2,500acres of prairies, woodlands, and contiguous wetlands between the western shores of Lake Waubesa and west to Fish Hatchery Road. Within it are Native sacred spaces and archaeological sites, including effigy mounds and notably in Lunney Lake Farm Park, the Lake Farms Archaeological District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The entire lakeshore is one continuous cultural landscape, since oral traditions and archaeological investigations have verified that this area has been home to Native people since the end of the last ice age.

FOSCRA members at a planning session

In 2021, FOCSRA held planning sessions and created an interpretive planning report with the following partners: HCN, Dane County Historical Society (DCHS), DCP, Lussier Family Heritage Center, and Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District. Funding for this $2,000 project was provided by a Wisconsin Humanities Council mini grant, with matching funds from FOCSRA and DCHS.

The idea for the project began in 2020 when Rick Bernstein of DCHS contacted Danielle Benden of Driftless Pathways, LLC, about the possibility of developing an exhibit that would interpret the Lake Farms Archeological District for park visitors. These interpretive discussions turned to the outdoors and broadened with the involvement of Quackenbush, James, Lael Pascual (now the Dane County Engagement and Community Services Manager), FOCSRA Naturalist Clare Carlson, plus Bill Lunney and Judie Pfeifer from the FOCSRA Board of Directors. Later they were joined by Susan Sandford, Dane County Land& Resources Department Strategic Engagement Coordinator, and Michael Mucha, Chief Engineer and Director with the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District.

The shared vision of the project partners, which also included Quackenbush, is “to preserve and protect the natural and cultural landscape within the Capital Springs Recreation Area for future generations; to enhance the visitor experience through interpretation of these resources; to recognize the inherent sovereignty of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin and their ancestral ties to this landscape; and to collaborate on projects of mutual benefit for all stakeholders.”

A part of this vision – to collaborate with the HCN and welcome the HCN to the park --will soon begin, made possible through a 2021 FDCP Endowment Grant. FOCSRA received the $1,769.76 grant that will go toward three initiatives related to inclusive education with the HCN: traditional-use plant interpretive signage, a collaborative HCN park event in June 2022 with Ho-Chunk youth, and a supply of binoculars for nature exploration to be used at the event and for everyday visitor use.

At the event, FOCSRA will utilize free canoes and safety equipment for a paddle tour on Lake Waubesa. The event will also feature a meal, interpretive and educational activities such as children’s prairie art, prairie and woodland nature walks, and nature-watching on the Lower Yahara River Trail boardwalk with the grant-funded binoculars. This serves to create long-lasting, meaningful bonds between park partners and the park.

“FOCSRA cares deeply about presenting educational material to the greater community with inclusion and historical understanding,” said Carlson. That’s why FOCSRA would like to complement its existing tree identification and 40 moveable prairie species markers (made possible from 2019 and 2020 Endowment Grants) to include Ho-Chunk traditional-use plant signs, which would include translation in the Hoocąk (Ho-Chunk) language.

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