You’re listening to Parks and Landmarks, an exploration of the underrated, outdoors. I’m Sean Bull.
In 2009 and 2013, the County bought parcels of land which back up to the very southern edge of the village of Oregon. They named it Anderson County Park, after the family that owned the land. Specifically, it’s named after the late Lyman Anderson, who served on the Dane County Board of Supervisors, and is also the namesake of the building the Dane County Parks department is run out of. Fair enough.
For most of its first decade, Anderson Park didn’t look like much. It was a series of flat fields, and one small patch of woods, with a few simple trails cut through it. This was nice for the people whose neighborhood bordered the woods, but that was about it. Anderson didn’t have enough going on to draw in people from the rest of Oregon, much less the rest of the county. But year over year, people from the community chipped away at improvements, and their work is starting to visibly pay off. In 2021, Anderson opened a dog park in its southernmost section of land. This is accessible to anyone driving by on County A, but also anyone who walks in off the brand new paved path, which connects the dog park to the existing forest, and the village beyond.
There’s a lot going on at the park these days, so I think it might be helpful to hear from an inside perspective. Roe Parker is the director of the Friends of Anderson Park, which has been responsible for many of the changes the park has undergone. Here’s what he thinks makes the park special:
RP: “Anderson park’s a great park for diversity, in that we have forests, we have some major prairies, these are undiscovered prairies to most people in Dane county. We also have an interesting agricultural mission; we’re one of three parks out of the 26 in the Dane County Park Coalition that has an agricultural mission, so we’re starting to work on that. We’re interested in food systems, and helping people get access to fresh produce and healthy diets.
Most of our development since 2018 has been on the east side of Union Road, just south of the Village of Oregon, in fact the northern boundary of the park is contiguous with the Village of Oregon. So we have a fifteen acre forest there, the Arthur Scholz Memorial Forest. We have five acres of prairie right there. We put in an additional four acres this winter so that we could create a habitat for ground-nesting birds. And then we also worked with the county on a three year project to set up a dog park east of Union Road. That’s 35 acres, and that’s all prairie. And what we’ve done is work with the county to convert this, we’ve converted close to forty acres to prairies. One of our prairies is rated one of the highest ones in Dane County, for beauty, as well as for the lack of invasive species.”
But the park isn’t focused only, or even primarily, on restoring native vegetation. Its roots as a farm are preserved, but aimed in a different direction.
RP: “At the park, we have the Anderson Farm Center. So, this is consisting of three parts. The first part is our food pantry garden. So we have a quarter acre food pantry garden that, through volunteers, we raise fresh vegetables for three pantries, Oregon, Belleville, and Verona. And we’re also starting a relationship with Little John’s Kitchen. The second component is related to twenty two other gardens that we have. We call these community gardens, but it’s a little bit of a misnomer. These community gardens are plots of land that are quarter acre in size, they’re 100 feet by 100 feet, so we screen people. We need serious gardeners to take care of this large of a garden plot. So, we have twenty two of those, and we support about fifteen Hmong families that have previously had problems with access to large areas of land to grow vegetables for their family.
The third part is something that we are sort of transitioning into, which is trying to interest market garden farmers to come out to the park, and lease between two to five acres of land. People would be able to lease this for extended periods, say like five years, they could grow whatever they would like, make a profit off of it, so they could take these products to the different institutions to the farmers markets, make a profit, and it would be theirs to keep. We have an interest to also do some education in wellness, and agriculture in general, helping young people get interested in the whole field of agriculture as a career.
We have a situation where Dane County has, they purchased the land from the Anderson family, who were locally well-known farmers. They purchased the land, and a lot of this was agricultural land. The county actually continues to lease the land out to farmers, so some of the land is being farmed by private farmers, and the county is able to take that land out of the lease with six months notice to the farmers.”
This is already a lot to have accomplished within the past few years, but it’s clear that the friends of the park intend to keep pushing. A big part of their website is dedicated to their dreams for the future, summarized under the banner of the so-called ‘New Horizons Project.’
RP: “Thank you for asking about the New Horizons Project. This is something that we’re trying to convey to the community, they see the things that we’ve already done, but we want to continue to keep them interested, and sort of dream about new things that we can do for the park, for the community, for some of the goals that I referred to.
One good example is that of a new community orchard. We’ve just last year put in ten apple trees, ten peach trees. This year, within the last three weeks, we put in plum trees. So we have thirty fruit trees that, it’s probably going to take them a few years to produce the fruit that we would like them to produce, and this is something that’s going to be available to the community. Also, the New Horizons project refers to the Anderson Farm Center, in terms of building some infrastructure out there to more substantially support the pantry garden, the Hmong gardeners, as well as to have more facilities available for market growers.
We had over 3,400 hours of volunteer time this last year. We still have a lot of energy, and we’ve got some great goals, and we wanted to be able to organize a message that there’s still things we can accomplish, and we want as many people involved as possible.”
That all sounds wonderful, but I am a child at heart, so I couldn’t help but fixate on a single aspect of the ‘New Horizons’ pitch. On the park friends website, there’s a picture of a girl, wearing a helmet, suspended by the waist from a rope. I immediately concluded that, beyond all the altruistic agricultural stuff, someone must be working on plans to bring ziplining to the park. Now that’s the kind of thing I can-
RP: “That’s not a zipline, that’s part of our educational activities. We do educational programs for K-12 students in the Oregon area. The one you’re referring to was a picture from our Arbor Day event. We work with Arbor Systems, one of our business members, and we sponsor a four hour educational event at the park. Arbor Systems provides instructors for five stations that explain trees, how they’re grown, how we can maintain them, and one of the five stations was how to climb a tree with ropes and harnesses. So the picture you’re seeing on the website is one of the sixth grades from the Rome Corners Middle School, actually learning to climb a tree with a harness and ropes. Kid’s literally learn how to climb about 30 feet in the air. So, it’s not a zipline, it’s really a rig that arborists use.”
Well, that’s still pretty cool. I guess I have extreme sports on the brain, because I’ve been imagining uses for the quarry that, at the moment, splits the recreational side of the park in half.
RP: “There’s a quarry, adjacent to the park, it’s currently being leased out by the Anderson family to the Payne and Dolan organization. Their lease gives them the ability to use that in a lease format until it’s not feasible for a business to quarry the stone in there. So, it’s hard to predict, but once the quarry has reached the end of the life cycle, the county has an interest to purchase it, because it would help connect Anderson Farm County park with the park that’s owned by the Town of Oregon.”
Parker is referring to Bicentennial Park, which is long-established, and would be great to connect to, but let’s not ignore the quarry! If we could collectively get over the liability concerns, there are a lot of fun things a park could do with a giant hole in the ground. Maybe ziplining is too risky, but I could see either archery or mountain biking fitting well within this sandstone bowl. In any case, that’s pretty far off. If you’d like to check out Anderson Park soon, there’s actually a great opportunity this weekend:
RP: “November 5th, the first Saturday in November, from 5pm to 8pm, we have a community outreach event, we’re inviting people to come out to the park. We light up the Arthur Scholz Memorial Forest hiking trails with Tiki torches and luminaries. We have a large bonfire, we have wellness groups with different booths, passing on information about wellness, and good diets. We also have some free food and activities for the kids. So it’s really a fun event, and it gets people outside, so we’re inviting everybody to stop on out and have some fun.”
Thanks to Roe Parker for talking with me today! If you’d like to know more about this Saturday’s event, you can find information at the friends’ website, andersonparkfriends.org. I’ll also link the page directly in the digital version of this story, which you can listen to at wortfm.org.
If you’d like to suggest a topic for Parks and Landmarks to cover, please send it my way, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell me about your favorite underrated spot outdoors, or whatever you feel is related. This segment’s title is intentionally broad, so just go for it. I’d love to hear from you guys. Again, that’s s-e-a-n dot b-u-l-l at w-o-r-t-f-m dot org. For WORT News, I’m Sean Bull.