On a sunny September afternoon, Edgerton resident Jamie Wright brought her Morab horse, Max, to the Silverwood County Park, on a trail they’ve ridden several times.
“A lot of people don’t trail ride show horses, but we want them to experience the world,” Wright said while she and Stoughton resident Nyssa Sheridan prepped their horses for the ride.
Trails loop through the agricultural fields, woodland and pollinator prairie of the nearly 300-acre park bordering Rice Lake in the Town of Albion. The property had been in the Silverwood family since 1870, and Edgerton High School teacher Irene Silverwood donated it to Dane County in 2001 to be used for park, recreation, conservation, research, education and agricultural purposes.
The Friends of Silverwood Park, which formed in 2013 and became a nonprofit in 2015, is seeking funding opportunities to support the development and maintenance of the park. One of those, for trail signage, is coming from a grant this year.
In the parking lot by historic farm buildings, Wright and Sheridan drove their trucks and trailers up a long gravel driveway. On one side is a corn field, and the other features rows of skinny white tubes, some with green leaves sticking over the top. Painted stakes at the end of each row indicate the starter trees and plants growing within, such as wild plum, white oak hybrid poplar and black currant.
This 18-acre agroforestry field is one of two in the park that will demonstrate “polyculture” farming, where typical crops like beans or grains are interspersed with fruit and nut trees planted in May.
At the north end of the park, an 8-acre project planned to be installed next spring would show how riparian buffers trap runoff water. These techniques not only conserve and build soil to help keep lakes clean but can also provide growers with potential multiple-source farm income.
Without many signs on the property, the Friends of Silverwood Park realize many visitors are unaware of what is being planted or planned for in the park. That’s why the nonprofit is applying for grants and fundraising to support its conservation activities and outreach efforts.
Last month, the Foundation for Dane County Parks notified the Friends of Silverwood County Park the nonprofit received a $2,000 Friends of Dane County Parks Endowment grant. The grant will go toward the fabrication of interpretive signage at the park to educate visitors about regenerative agriculture and the importance of pollinators when they stop by for a hike, watch a cross country meet or go for a horseback ride.
“We want to make sure we can educate anyone who comes to our park and have a positive impact on them and our environment, especially as it pertains to agriculture,” Kyle Richmond, president of the Friends of Silverwood Park, told the Hub.
The design and development of the sign project will cost around $8,000, and Richmond hopes the signs will be installed after the ground thaws in spring. The Friends group partners with the Savanna Institute on some interactive programs and workshops, but this grant would initially be intended for passive education.
“We’re really excited (about this seed grant), and we’re going to lean on the Savanna Institute to help us develop the design and information on the agroforestry pieces, and go back to Dane County and other sources to develop the pollination pieces,” Richmond said.
The Friends group thinks about different ways to engage its three target audiences: K-12 students, the general public and its growers and farmers. Richmond said some of those educational topics may include agroforestry, organic farming, pollinators, soil building and “eventually the mix between conservation lands and agricultural lands and why the restoration of oak savanna is important to the whole picture too.”
Katie Whitten, vice president of the Friends of Silverwood Park, said the Friends group rents some of the parkland from the county and then subleases it to local growers who are required to spend a certain number of hours educating the public, such as teaching summer school kids how to make strawberry rhubarb jam.
Roe Parker, president of the Anderson Park Friends, Inc., said he would like their group to learn organic growing techniques from Silverwood County Park, which has 15 acres that are certified organic and even more transitioning next year.
In addition to human visitors, the Friends group also wants to attract more pollinators.
The park has already installed a 2-acre pollinator prairie and an organic flower garden full of colorful zinnias, which seemed this summer to be doing the trick for attracting butterflies and bees. Another potential project on the horizon at Silverwood would feature an apple orchard with pollinator strips rather than just grass or weeds between the rows of trees.
Richmond said Silverwood County Park has “big ideas but not as much volunteer energy and resources as we want right now,” so the grant for interpretive signage is “helpful in getting the ball rolling” for an even larger educational vision noted in Silverwood’s master plan: a learning center.
“Part of what we want to do is connect the dots for people at Silverwood and tell them these are the connections between daily behaviors, wildlife, what you eat and the activity on the land, and here are some things you can do to make all of these elements healthier,” Richmond said. “We’re trying to get them to understand the relationships out on the land and how everything is so interdependent.”