Dane County is continuing to add public access points along the Upper Sugar River.

The county, which in 2013 began building what is now known as the Falk/Wells Sugar River Wildlife Area, has purchased more than 560 acres of land or access to the land along the river, stretching from the Town of Verona to Basco.

The Dane County Board of Supervisors voted Jan. 23 to purchase permanent access to another 1,450 feet of undeveloped streambank along the river for $23,540, on property owned by the Sarbacker family near Paoli.

The access will allow for public fishing, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced in a Jan. 21 press release. It comes in the form of a permanent easement in the Town of Montrose.

“By purchasing this easement along the Sugar River, more Dane County residents and visitors will have access to our natural spaces and be able to take part in recreational activities,” Parisi wrote. “These types of easements also protect our outdoor spaces so they can be enjoyed by future generations.”

The Sugar River is a cold-water trout stream identified as a Tier I Stream Project in the 2018-2023 Dane County Parks and Open Space Plan. According to the county release, the easement would also protect water quality and preserve fish and wildlife habitat.

Dane County’s 13 year old streambank easement program has protected more than 24 miles of streams countywide, the release states. The program keeps the land in private ownership while opening public access to trout fisheries.

“This part of the Sugar River is close to long stretches of the river that the county has restored and opened for public fishing,” Southern Wisconsin Chapter of Trout Unlimited president Amy Klusmeier wrote in the county release. “The Sarbackers have taken wonderful care of the river, and it will offer wonderful fishing on a lovely piece of water.”

Two sections of the Sugar River were restored by Dane County, the DNR, and Trout Unlimited in the summers of 2017 and 2019, the release stated.

The county first acquired land for the nearby wildlife area from the Bruce Company, which owned more than 900 acres of land for its nursery and landscaping operations. The county named it in honor of former Executive Kathleen Falk and her chief of staff, Topf Wells, in 2014.

In June 2017, the county opened a 2-mile hiking trail in the area that connected two separate areas. That year, it purchased a half-mile of frontage from the Sarbacker family along the river’s West Branch for $31,600.

- Jim Ferolie