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Plain Talk: Dane County Parks' commitment to inclusion is commendable

Plain Talk: Dane County Parks' commitment to inclusion is commendable

StoryWalk (copy)

Hannah Olson, right, nanny to brothers, from left, Gabe Fischer, 7, Oliver, 10 and Wyatt, 6, all from Cottage Grove, take in a StoryWalk at Lussier Family Heritage Center. The trail, which winds through a restored prairie in Lake Farm County Park, features the children's book "Over in the Meadow" by Jane Cabrera and is posted on yard signs two pages at a time. Permanent structures are planned for next spring but the stories change on the 15th of each month. 

The coronavirus pandemic has put the kibosh on so much of our world, but it was nice to learn last week that despite all, the use of Dane County's park system has been at record levels this summer.

And in the face of the pandemic, nearly all the plans to make improvements at the 26-park system have continued unabated.

The latest newsletter from the Foundation for Dane County Parks, the nonprofit that has created an endowment to support the upkeep and maintenance of the parks, outlined just how busy this pandemic-marred year has been.

Parks Director Darren Marsh touted the work being done to convert the popular Lussier Family Heritage Center and the Lunney Lake Farm Park campground to all solar power, including charging stations for electric cars and bikes to help wean us all away from fossil fuels. The center and campground sit along the marshland along the western shore of Lake Waubesa and are constantly bustling with activity.

A 40-acre dog park at the new Lyman Anderson Farm County Park near Oregon is under construction, including the planting of prairie and turf grass areas, a parking lot, a storm water retention system with rain gardens, and a trail system.

Two new lake access piers were added to Babcock County Park in McFarland this spring and a fishing pier will open soon at Salmo Pond, just west of Cross Plains. One of the goals of the parks foundation is to eventually build handicapped-accessible piers to all county parks that contain waterways.

But, aside from the good news about the parks and their popularity, the newsletter contains a statement by the foundation's board that recognizes a need to reach out to the entire community. The statement addresses the Black Lives Matter movement and the need for solidarity against racism. and that includes a commitment from the parks system.

"As the conversation about making meaningful, lasting change in our communities continues, the safety of and access to nature for Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) can and must be part of the discussion," the board statement says. "The Foundation believes that all BIPOC deserve to live in a community with healthy land and water resources as well as with access to the parks, trails, and other natural resources in the county.

"Today, many people struggle to find ways to access and enjoy the natural world. Our relationship with nature is incorporated in our DNA and is essential to the health of our bodies, minds, and spirits, yet that relationship is limited by cultural, economic, racial and geographic barriers. Many of our major cities in the U.S. have limited access to parks and natural resources for their residents, and the disparity is even more egregious for communities of color.

"The Dane County Parks Department has recognized this access issue, and through programming and resources, and with our Foundation, has supported initiatives to rectify the situation locally. But we have much work to do."

The statement goes on to commit the foundation to identifying and reducing barriers and more fully incorporate equity, diversity and inclusion in its programs.

Hats off to the board for recognizing a need to do all it can to include everyone in the treasures that are Dane County's public parks.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.  

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