Law Park aerial map

Law Park is 4.7 acres of green space that span the length of Lake Monona from about Williamson Street to North Shore Drive. It’s about 90 feet wide and split in half by Lake Monona and located three blocks from the Capitol Square.


Since John Nolen published his 1911 plan for Madison, the Lake Monona waterfront has captured the imagination of architects and engineers who have offered grand visions to connect the city and the lake.

Over the years, private groups have introduced plans to connect the city’s downtown and the lake, including building a roof-deck park over John Nolen Drive. Now, it is the community’s turn to weigh in on what they want to see along Lake Monona’s edge

Starting Thursday, the city’s Parks Division will launch a public input campaign to get feedback on how to improve Law Park — 2,500 feet of shoreline and public park space between John Nolen Drive and Lake Monona that presents unique challenges and opportunities.

Project manager Mike Sturm said this is a “fresh start to identify priorities at Law Park.”

“This is the Parks Division’s opportunity to actually go to the community and hear what their goals and priorities are for the space, recognizing it is a shoreline that is very unique for Madison,” Sturm said.

The Parks Division, in partnership with a consulting team, is hosting a series of three workshops and an open house to identify potential improvements in a preliminary report. This process, expected to conclude this year, will also include a regulatory review of shoreline redevelopment and a site analysis.

The findings will ultimately lay the groundwork for a future master plan, which is anticipated to occur in 2020. Master plans outline an overall vision with key elements and amenities and are not detailed construction plans.

The first workshop is Thursday and will take place from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Villager Mall, 2300 S. Park St. Future workshops will be located at the Warner Park Recreation Community Center and the Central Library downtown. The open house will be at Badger Rock Neighborhood Center.

Workshops will be more structured and include an interactive activity while the open house will be less formal. In addition to the engagement meetings, the consultants are hosting tabling events, conducting in-person interviews with park users and conducting an online survey.

Sturm said hosting public input events downtown and on the north and south sides of the city is a way to ensure people across Madison have an opportunity to have their voices heard.

“It’s the Parks Division recognizing that this is a shoreline that will ultimately serve the greater community and not just downtown residents,” Sturm said.

'Visionary but build-able'

Law Park is 4.7 acres of green space spanning the length of Lake Monona from about Williamson Street to North Shore Drive. It’s about 90 feet wide, split in half by Monona Terrace, and located three blocks from the Capitol Square.

In his original plan, Nolen envisioned a 5,000-square-foot waterfront esplanade that connected the lake to the Capitol and the surrounding community. A greatly reduced park was constructed in 1943.

Though the park provides a linear connection along the south edge of the isthmus, Law Park is isolated from the downtown by John Nolen Drive’s six lanes, the railroad corridor and about 35 feet of elevation change.

Apart from limited access points to the site, the bike path along Law Park is heavily used as part of the commuter network system. But a primary challenge is making people aware that the area is a legitimate city park and not just green space.

“People don’t actually know they’re in it,” Sturm said.

The Nolen Waterfront project, the most recent vision for Law Park, proposed to create access to the lake from downtown by creating a roof-deck park over John Nolen Drive. This plan, created by the Madison Design Professionals Workgroup, also called for improving the Blair Street intersection and building a boathouse designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1893.

To preserve the future opportunity of a bridge over John Nolen Drive as a viable option, the city secured an easement for transportation purposes at 149 E. Wilson St. on the east side of Monona Terrace.

Sturm hopes that the public input process will spur “visionary but build-able” ideas. He feels challenged to foster exciting recommendations founded in community input that are workable.

“It’s important that people understand possibility,” Sturm said.

More information on Law Park and the public input process can be found on the city's project page

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.

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