This milestone is a time to reflect and celebrate. A park doesn't just happen. It requires the merging of several natural and human elements to create a natural and vibrant community asset that will endure for generations.
A park requires Mother Nature's gifts of natural resources sculpted into beautiful diverse landscapes of hills, wetlands, prairies, or water. A park needs generations of previous occupants and land owners providing nurturing stewardship of the land. She needs government and community resources to provide financial support and volunteers to help sustain her.
That was the case 85 years ago when Dane County's first park, Stewart Lake Park, was born with a purchase of 47 acres for $2,800, funded in a partnership between the Village of Mount Horeb and Dane County. Partnerships have helped build Dane County's Park system into over 15,000 acres with 25 recreation parks, 29 wilderness areas, three farm parks, eight dog exercise parks, and several historical and cultural sites.
A significant part of the partnerships is the volunteer and philanthropic base. There are over 3,000 volunteers and over 500 generous donors annually to the Foundation for Dane County Parks to sustain our County Parks. We can be proud to claim the most naturally diverse and innovate county park system in the state.
Additionally, our residents can enjoy a system with over 100 miles of trails connecting communities and providing safe wildlife corridors. Access to the Ice Age National Scenic Trail is at our backdoor and it is free. The Lussier Family Heritage Center is located within 10 minutes of downtown Madison at Lunney Lake Farm County Park and provides community gathering and educational space. Recreational fishing is available without charge on over 30 miles of streambanks. Access to many lakes and streams have been constructed through a system of piers, and the County is partnering with the Foundation for Dane County Parks and other groups to provide accessible piers for people with physical and cognitive challenges.
But challenges and obstacles lie ahead as our population increases and grows more diverse, as well as experiences a loss of wildlife, possible dwindling budgets, and climate change.
We need more land in public ownership to handle the expected population growth. Since the old adage is still true, that “they aren't making any more land,” prices will increase as the demand increases and the supply dwindles. Dane County's population will reach over 600,000 in less than 20 years.
The need for open space is never more evident than the huge influx of people using our parks during the COVID-19 pandemic. More land is also needed to provide buffers for our delicate wetlands and prevent catastrophic flooding and conserving our diverse wildlife. We need physical buffers to preserve our cultural sites for future generations to understand our past.
We need to provide access to our parks and public lands to all our populations. Access to nature is proven to improve physical and mental health. It is a critical need and right for our diverse populations, particularly for people of color, to have easy access. Good health is one of the identified needs of people of color. We also need even more robust volunteer programming. Volunteering in a park helps the Dane County Parks and cements the volunteer's bond with nature. Future blogs will help define these challenges and provide solutions.
So it is time to celebrate our 85 years of success and yet be mindful of the need to plan for our future.