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Take a walk in Madison's parks - WISC - Channel3000.com - WISC

Take a walk in Madison’s parks – WISC – Channel3000.com – WISC

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Madison residents have taken pride in their park system since attorney John Olin persuaded a couple dozen citizens to pay membership dues to the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association in 1894. And the moment rickety carriages started making wheel ruts in the then 2-year-old, 12-mile-long Lake Mendota Drive, the need for park maintenance was born, too.

“We stand on the shoulders of giants,” says Madison Parks Superintendent Eric Knepp, 124 years later.

Madison is known for its abundance of public green space — in fact, 13.5% of the city is parkland. And the parks department, with some 5,000 acres to manage, is Madison’s largest landowner.

Madison parks stack up well against those in other cities, too. The Land for Public Trust ranked Madison’s parks 10th in 2016, ninth in 2017 and 12th last year among park systems in the 100 largest U.S. cities. 

A city’s “ParkScore,” calculated by The Land for Public Trust, is a statistical measure of a city’s park system based on acreage, investment, amenities and access. In 2018, Madison earned maximum points for the number of playgrounds, dog parks and basketball hoops it offers.  

But it was dinged for its lack of recreation and senior centers and for having less than the desired number of splash pads and restrooms. 


However, one fact noted in Madison’s 2018 ParkScore — that 90% of Madison residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park — is a particular source of pride for Knepp. 

“We’re the most walkable urban park system in a medium-density American city,” Knepp says. “We’re lucky that we had great city and park planners over the decades.”

The park system is also fortunate to have a plethora of friends — 21 active, park-specific friends groups — helping maintain them and guide more visitors through them.

“Every park or natural area ne friends,” says Jan Axelson, president of Friends of Cherokee Marsh, which formed in 2007 to protect the largest wetland in Dane County. Volunteers organize work days to cull invasive plants, raise money for educational programs and lead guided walks and paddle tours of the marsh for hundr of visitors annually.



Still, dogs remain off limits in children’s play areas, on beaches, on athletic fields, in conservation parks or in any park building. And the policy of no dogs unless specified stands in contrast to many other urban parks in the country where dogs are allowed except where specifically banned.

“We probably get more pressure on dogs than any other issue,” says Knepp, who has called the current dog policy “antiquated” and out of step with the times.

Where: Dogs are allowed on leash at 26 Madison parks, and off leash at eight designated pet exercise areas. Off-leash areas are Warner Park, Brittingham Park, Demetral Park, Odana School Park, Quann Park, Walnut Grove Park, Sycamore Park and McCormick Park.

How Much: A dog license ($15) is required for all city of Madison residents who own a dog that is 5 months or older. You may purchase a dog license at the City Treasurer’s Office. A dog park permit ($5 daily, $35 annually, $17 for seniors and dog owners with disabilities) is required for city of Madison on-leash dog parks, off-leash dog parks along with the pet exercise areas provided by Dane County Parks, the city of Middleton and the city of Sun Prairie. Permits are available online and in the Madison Parks Office in Room 104 of the City-County Building at 201 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Fun Fact: Madison scores in the top 10 nationally for dog-friendliness, according to the Trust for Public Lands. That ranking is based on the number of dog parks per capita. This might come as a surprise to dog owners who hail from places like Milwaukee, where dogs are allowed in all parks unless restrictions are specifically posted.

Disc Golf
The original pay-to-play park users are still growing in numbers.


Longtime Madison disc golfer Mike Batka, who owns the Glide Disc Golf pro shop at 4222 Milwaukee St. next to Hiestand Park, would like to see some of that money go toward building at least one more new disc golf course. 

“It’s been 20 years since Madison has added anything,” he says. “The demand is certainly there.”

Batka says the obvious site is Yahara Hills, where the city has talked about eliminating some of the 36 golf holes to reduce red ink from lagging greens fees.  

“There is a ton of land out there,” Batka says of Yahara. “You could fit 18 holes of disc golf onto nine holes of traditional golf.”

Where: Madison Parks offer three disc golf courses operated seasonally. Hiestand and Elver Parks are open late spring through early fall and Yahara Hills is open late fall through early spring. 

How much: A daily ($5) or annual permit ($40) is required for anyone age 16 or older. Permits are available at the courses, in the Madison Parks office in the CCB or online.

Fun fact: TV coverage of some of the biggest disc golf events reached 82 million cable households last year in disc golf’s first foray into regular cable access, according to Disc Golf Planet.

The city has converted tennis courts for players of this new racket sport.

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But it’s a different story in the fall when early sunsets demand lighted fields.

“Most of the lit fields in Madison are designed for softball, so while they work, they are not ideal,” says Schramm. “There also are not many of them, so we’re competing with a number of other organizations over a small subset of lit field space.”

More lighted Ultimate Frisbee fields could be coming to Madison, however, with the proposed redesign of Burr Jones Field off East Washington Avenue.

Where: Madison Parks fields are available throughout the city and can be reserved if they are not already booked for an organized sports league. Visit here to reserve fields.

How much: You can reserve an Ultimate field for $30 for two hours. The cricket field at Reindahl rents for $15 an hour. Madison Parks will rent fields for other purposes as well.

Fun Fact: The name Frisbee is trademarked by Wham-O Toys, which purchased rights to the flying plastic disc from the inventor many years ago. That means it’s technically illegal to use the name “Frisbee” even though it’s widely used colloquially. Many devotees simply call the sport “Ultimate” and refer to the centerpiece as “the disc.”

Survey Says: “What would you like to see more of in Madison parks?”
1. Acquisition of land for recreation and/or preservation
2. Natural spaces and conservation areas
3. Walking trails
4. Fields for sports activities
5. Winter facilities
6. Access to water and swimming activities
7. Dog parks
8. Recreational programs and/or events
9. Downtown parks
10. Places to reserve a shelter for family gatherings

Meet 22 Madison Parks