On March 1, Dane County Parks officials hosted an open house at the City-County Building to share the final draft of the 2018-2023 Parks and Open Space Plan and introduced the upcoming Parks and Trails Unite Festival set for early June.
The open house was held just before the evening’s city council meeting to give community members a feel for what is in store for Dane County’s parks. The main themes of this upcoming Parks and Open Space plan are accessibility, language and inclusion.
Every five years the plan is updated to be eligible for state stewardship grand funds and to reassess the state of the parks’ “significant natural, cultural, and historical resources,” by using public forums to gather input, according to the Dane County Parks website. Each new plan serves to build upon the last plan and helps officials gather information about new trends and new opportunities.
“Inclusion and accessibility remain a priority for Dane County, so as we continue to invest in park development we need to think about places that are for everybody,” Dane County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan of Middleton said in a press release for the open house.
Dane County Senior Park Planner Chris James spoke to community members about the what to expect from the newest iteration of the plan as he stood in front of a map of the city that outlined the next five years of development.
“We’re really trying to drill down to if there are barriers that might be keeping some people from visiting our parks. And one of the big things that has come up that we heard in our public process is transportation,” James said.
One of the ways the plan officials hopes to address accessibility is by getting more school-age students to various parks in the county, which has proven to be a challenge.
“One of our strategies may be: we have a really large volunteer group and that volunteer group might be able to help us with providing transportation for teachers to get school kids out to our parks,” James said.
Another goal of the 2018-2023 Parks and Open Space plan is take a closer look at the language used throughout the parks.
“Historically, our parks, our signage and everything is in English,” he said. “So we’re starting to think about ways how can we make our parks more readable to the Hmong community or the Spanish community, so when they go out to parks they are getting the same messages and same information.”
The informational session also gave a sneak peek to this summer’s Parks and Trails Unite Festival which will be June 2, 2018 at both Lake Farm and McDaniel Parks. The event will be hosted by Dane County Parks, the Village of McFarland and United Madison “to celebrate connecting communities.”
This festival will inaugurate the new Lower Yahara River trail, which was first recommended in the Parks and Open Space plan about 25 years ago, according to James. The trail now connects the Lake Farm County and McDaniel Park and serves a mile-long bridge for bikes and pedestrians between Madison and McFarland.
“It provides a safe access to everybody on the southeastern portion of Dane County now to get to all the bike trails around Madison and all the services around Madison,” Dane County Parks Director Darren Marsh said about the newest addition to the Dane County community.
The festival will include a variety of activities and entertainment for attendees.
“We’re going to use both land and water to promote the event. So, we’ll have kayaks, canoes, pontoon boats. We’ll have biking and hiking. We’ll have all kinds of different types of kids activities and nonprofits involved,” Marsh said.
The Lower Yahara River trail is one of the many manifestations that has come out of the ongoing effort to develop Dane County’s many parks, trails and open spaces. Dane County officials have crafted this new plan to continue cultivating access and community.
“I think overall, [the 2018-2023 Parks and Open Space plan] continues to build upon what we’ve done in the past and we’ve built a super park system. We have over 12,000 acres of land now and over 20 miles of trails and we’re not done yet. We’re going to keep working and implementing recommendations to this plan and just keep going,” James said.
The Dane County Board is set to consider the resolution to adopt the 2018-2023 Parks and Open Space plan April 22, 2018.