A deal to nearly double the size of Fireman’s Park is getting county support.
Dane County announced Thursday, May 17, it is providing a grant of $20,500, about one-fourth the total cost of the property, to expand the park by 13.1 acres to the east.
Part of the expansion, which grew out of attempts to find a location for a pool, is necessary for the implementation of the park’s new master plan, which the city approved in March. That plan changes the entrance to the eastern edge of the current park and lines it up with another driveway.
But it also provides access to the Badger Mill Creek, and ultimately, the Sugar River, which got the county interested, as it’s been expanding access to the river for several years now.
“Protecting our beautiful natural resources is critical to ensuring our high quality of life in Dane County,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said in a news release last week. “I am proud of all the conservation efforts Dane County has (led). This is another important part of our efforts to increase access to outdoor recreational activities.”
The city has met in closed session to discuss the price of the land, and it plans to vote on the acquisition at its next meeting, Tuesday, May 29, city administrator Jeff Mikorski told the Press on Monday. It’s owned by Sheryl Jones and Cathy Matts, he said, adding the total price will be close to but not exactly the estimate the city provided to the county for its grant application, $80,200.
Most of the additional land, which extends from Bruce Street to the right-of-way along South Main Street, is wetland and forest.
As part of the grant, the city plans to remove invasive plants and “re-establish an open meadow with natural walking paths, allowing access to the Badger Mill Creek,” the county news release said. Streambank improvement and management of the one-third of a mile of the creek will be a partnership among the city, Trout Unlimited, the state Department of Natural Resources and the Upper Sugar River Watershed Association, the release said.
Mikorski said the plan includes a trail stretching from Bruce Street to Main Street, with paths along it to the creek.
The city originally approached the landowners about the property last year in hopes of expanding Fireman’s Park enough to site an outdoor community pool, but even with the additional property, it would have been too small, as the city would have been able to use the expansion only for natural recreation, not pool facilities or parking.
The county has been purchasing properties around Verona along the Sugar River for the past five years, starting with a 466-acre acquisition of former Bruce Company land along Hwy. 69, which it later renamed the Falk Wells Sugar River Wildlife Area. That area now includes hiking trails, new bridges and parking areas with additional river access.
Another 100 acres was added in 2015, and a separate purchase along the West Branch added 60 acres with fishing access and a hunting easement of 110 acres.
The county’s 2018 budget includes $75,000 for a multi-year restoration of the Sugar River, the release said.