By Brian D’Ambrosio (Author, Madison For Dads: 101-Dad-Related-Adventures)
One of Madison, Wisconsin’s most dearly held secrets, the hiking and panorama at Owen Conservation Park offer great scenery of mixed woods and prairie, and a city skyline overlook. The view of the city shows only a scant percentage of the buildings and gives the impression that there is very little around but forest and country.
History of Owen Conservation Park
Madison has certainly grown since the early 1900s. On a summit showcasing the city’s west side, this 84-acre park was once the summer retreat of former University of Wisconsin French professor Edward T. Owen (1850 – 1931). He named it Torwald. Owen was not only an educator but also real estate investor and conservationist. He feared that unchecked urban development would ruin the natural beauty of Madison. With associates John Olin and Edward Hammersley, he donated land for a 12-mile pleasure drive on the west side. Owen heavily influenced the creation of the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association, which bought and preserved acreage for public parks and drives decades before the city comprehended the meaning and import of such ideas.
Hiking and Birding at Owen Conservation Park
Today, prairie and oak savanna have reclaimed Owen Conservation Park. Native prairie plants, aquatic plants, trees and shrubs envelop or blanket the ponds. The three wildlife ponds completed in 2008 give permanent water habitat to migratory waterfowl and other wildlife, including deer, turkey vultures, herons, wood ducks, and shorebirds. Goldenrod, coneflowers and bluestem are among the scores of plants that generate a reward of rotating color and consistency throughout the year. The park features 3.4 miles of trails of packed dirt, grass, and wood chip. Trail traffic is light and all of the loop options are easy. No dogs or bike allowed. Trails are groomed for cross-country skiing in winter. Access is limited from 4 a.m. to one hour after sunset.
Various entry trails from all sides give community-park accessibility to Owen Conservation Park. High trees around its boundary give the impression that much of the enveloping world is primitive and countrified. From its intersection with University Avenue on the west side, follow Whitney Way south 0.2 miles to Old Middleton Road. Go west (right) 0.6 miles to Old Sauk Road. Turn left and at 0.4 miles the park entrance, 6021 Old Sauk Road, appears on your left. Follow the park road to the parking lot. The trailhead is to the right of the lot entry in the northwest corner of the lot.