Blog post by William G. Lunney, Foundation for Dane County Parks President

Something very special and historic is happening to Central and Southern Dane County's landscape. A two decade dream is coming to fruition through the construction of the next major phase of the Lower Yahara River Trail and the building of accessible piers to provide water access to many. .With the Lower Yahara River Trail, Dane County Parks will add a major necklace of green through our County to be enjoyed and appreciated for generations in the future.  

Trails are much more than gravel and asphalt, they unite communities, provide corridors for wild life, offer opportunities for people to recreate and enjoy nature's beauty, as well as improve their mental and physical health all the while providing economic benefits to the area.

The next phase of the trail will add several miles of natural resource accessible connections along the Yahara River from South Madison to Stoughton

When completed, this next phase of the Lower Yahara Trail will enable people and wildlife to travel through miles of diverse natural and cultural resources along a verdant river system. While incorporating standard methods of travel like bicycling and hiking, this trail will be unique. It will provide an accessible "water" trail connection between Lake Waubesa and Lake Kegonsa through construction of accessible piers, related  facilities and kayak launches at both Lakes funded through the leadership of Dane County Parks and supplemented by generous private donations spearheaded by the Foundation for Dane County Parks. Trails routinely take years to complete as the construction covers diverse landscapes, cultural and historic areas, and many private and public land owners. That's why this is so impressive and is a testament to Dane County Parks.

The Lower Yahara River Trail will connect existing trails to those recently constructed to those planned, creating a comprehensive trail system from Madison, south to Stoughton. Covering nearly twenty miles, it will essentially assure an environmental and recreational corridor through the heart of the county.

Beginning at the already built Capital City Trail, people will be able to connect to the Lower Yahara Trail, using many modes of non motorized accessible transportation. Starting at the vibrant hub of downtown Madison then along Lake Monona with spectacular vista of the Capitol,  the Frank Lloyd Wright Monona Terrace and the lake, the trail continues South under the beltline, past the popular bird viewing area supported by the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District to the less busy Capital Springs Recreation Area. That 2500 acre expanse includes the Phillip and Elizabeth Lewis EWay corridor and the solar powered County owned Lussier Family Heritage Center, a center for environmental education for the community, It is the location of a motorized  accessible all terrain wheel chair available for public use.

Then proceeding East, the Lower Yahara Trail itself begins at the 325 acre William G. Lunney Lake Farm County Park as the trail flows seamlessly into peaceful prairies, wetlands and savannas. With its diverse flora and fauna Lunney Park is one of the first Parks in Wisconsin to be fully energy independent. Located in that Park are parts of the Capital Springs Recreation Area with nationally recognized sites of settlements by indigenous people of the Ho-Chunk Nation .  

Leaving Lunney Lake Farm Park, a different experience awaits crossing Lake Waubesa on the Lower Yahara Bridge, an engineering masterpiece built sensitively to honor the Ho Chunk culture and preserving the natural environment of the Lake. A unique almost majestic delight enfolds on the bridge as the beauty of the Lake and open water engulfs the spirit before connecting to the other shore at McFarland's McDaniel Park.  THE trail will soon connect to Babcock County Park where an accessible Pier and Kayak Launch is planned to be completed by the end of 2025. Following the Yahara River south we will journey through wetlands and Native Mound Archaeological sites just as indigenous ancestors did a thousand years earlier. Today  parts of that area are still replete with evidence of centuries of indigenous human habitation and have been identified nationally for their   archeological, historic and cultural importance.  

Next the journey will stop at Fish Camp County Park, a little known gem located at the Northern edge of Lake Kegonsa. The camp was a place where fish were harvested during the depression years, and transported to the East Coast urban areas for food. Today its significance is much greater as it is located strategically in the midst of the Door Creek Wetlands an important wetland complex surrounding this 2000 acre lake. The Park will be the site of another accessible Pier and Kayak Launch completing the accessible connection by water between the two Parks.  

Still In the planning and early construction phase, the final connection of the trail south will include several other natural resource areas and Parks. In that phase,  County Parks' visionary planners are providing another carefully constructed bridge and boardwalk more than one mile in length over sensitive wetlands and water.  Expected to be completed by the end of the year it will provide a corridor connection to popular Lake Kegonsa State Park. Finally, the trail then enfolds with connections to LaFollette County Park and to another gem the beautiful and serene Viking County Park concluding near the City Of Stoughton.      

A product of nearly twenty years of planning, construction and financial support, the trail will embody the environmental and cultural values we in Dane County and Wisconsin hold dear. When completed, it will provide a resource corridor spanning over twenty miles, a corridor of land and water with options for accessibility for those with different needs and challenges. It honors the indigenous heritage of our ancestors and provides a vehicle for education and inspiration. With this masterpiece, Dane County Parks will have added a significant  element to enhance our quality of life. One that will be be enjoyed and cherished for generations in the future.

(photo credit: Phil Levin)

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