Edna Taylor Conservation Park: Gems of Madison

March 27, 2012
Edna Taylor Conservation Park

By Brian D’Ambrosio

Edna Taylor was a writer, teacher and dairy farmer who sold 37 of her 98 acres to Madison to help create the 56-acre conservancy park which bears her name. Taylor, who had the strongly admirable environmental foresight to protect the beautiful wetland and forest, died before the completion of the park. The city bought the land in 1972, four months after her death.

Popular for local school field trips and with birdwatchers, the cattail-rich park is neatly and inconspicuously situated in the midst of frenetic pockets of residential housing and commercial development. Rife with frogs and birds, the hidden gem teems with wildflowers, oak stands, cottonwoods, lily-pads and blue-flag iris. Ponds here play host to everything from egrets and great blue herons to woodpeckers.

Edna Taylor Conservation Park

Tucked off Monona Drive and Femrite Drive, Edna Taylor Conservation Park offers three out-and-back hiking loops, a spring, marsh habitat, a glacial drumlin, oak stands, nature viewing platforms, and a Native American effigy mound. The area incorporates a little more than 3 miles of trails; the scenery is comprised of wetlands, willows, oak forest, ponds, savanna, and a handsome assortment of wildflowers. At the corner of the parking lot a large memorial stone dedicated to Edna Taylor denotes the trail’s beginnings.

The trail starts in between high grass and pretty marshland, and is easy to follow and well-maintained throughout. Birders will have exciting field days watching Canadian geese, cranes, herons, and mallards. Redwing and tricolor birds are abundant in the marshy ponds, and the surrounding shrubbery is especially comely in the fall. Raspberries abound in the fields in July. Observation platforms at the edge of the ponds are great for spotting water fowl. It’s common in the springtime to spy tiny Canada geese chicks and tadpoles.On the east side of the park are six linear Indian effigy mounds and one panther-shaped mound, all listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Edna Taylor Conservation Park abuts the equally enjoyable Aldo Leopold Park; wedged in the thickness of evergreens, a sign denotes the change of parks. Trail traffic is generally pretty light, and the park is open 4 a.m. to 1 hour before sunset. Restrooms and water are available at the park office during those hours.

Edna Taylor Conservation Park Directions

From the Beltline Highway (US 12/18), drive north on Monona Drive 0.6 miles and hook a right on Femrite Drive. The parking lot for Edna Taylor Conservancy Park is on the left about 0.4 miles from Monona Drive. To the right of the parking is the easily identifiable trailhead. The entry to the Aldo Leopold Nature Center is also on the left side, approximately 1,000 feet from Monona Drive.

Brian D’Ambrosio’s Madison for Dads: 101 Adventures now available for $4.99 as Ebook:

A Winter Weekend in Door County

February 3, 2011

By Dayle Quigley

This past weekend saw me traveling once again to check out music in small town Wisconsin. This weekend however I picked more of a geographic area than a specific small town. Since Door County is more a “road trip” then a casual night out, a friend and I coordinated our schedules, picked a weekend and then hoped to find live music in the area. In turns out that finding live music in Door County was easy, even at this time of year.

For a place to stay, we picked a random resort off the internet. It was very nice. The truth is we could have had our pick of spots. Door County in the winter is significantly quieter than in the summer. Since we were not arriving in  Door County, more specifically Egg Harbor until late on Friday, and leaving again on Sunday, our one chance for finding live music was on Saturday. We had two choices – Mojo Perry at the Door County Community Auditorium or Dow Jones at the Stone Harbor Pub and Restaurant. We went for Mojo Perry. In all honesty, I had never heard of Mojo Perry but the write up was good and it was listed as being an acoustic concert. I just couldn’t find enough about the Dow Jones band on the internet. Since both acts are touted as “rock”, I went for the one where I thought I might be able to hear in the morning. Okay, I’m showing my age but it’s true and I grew up on John Denver, James Taylor and Billy Joel. I’m not really a heavy metal kind of gal.

We started out on Saturday evening at the White Gull Inn in Fish Creek. We picked this particularly restaurant not because of the menu but because it is a music venue a couple of times a month. We unfortunately happened to be there on an off weekend but I wanted to get a feel for the place anyway. The Inn as been in existence since the late 1800s. That says something in itself especially for someone who likes a place with history. On nights that music is scheduled, dinner is served at 6 with a set meal and price. The dining area is then cleared out so that the stage can be set up and seats arranged. I should have asked how many members can be in the audience but I didn’t. My guess would be about a hundred. No matter what, it would be a wonderful place to hear a concert. I was bummed that we were not going to be there a couple of days later when John McCutcheon was playing. I should remark that the food was wonderful: a wide selection, more than reasonable portions without feeling like you were in an all you can eat buffet line, and tastefully seasoned. It was a great way to start the evening.

We then headed down the road to the Door County Community Auditorium and the Mojo Perry concert. This concert was one of their Coffee House Concert performances. Instead of the concert being within the auditorium proper (which seats over 700), this gig was in the foyer of the building where a fire was burning (okay it was gas but it did look nice), and tables of four were set up. The lights were turned down and candles lit the area. The audience was small with only about 24 in attendance. Most of the audience was in their 50s and sadly I saw only one couple sitting within a foot of each other. Instead, they sat separately with their arms crossed. I have to admit that it wasn’t looking good from the start. Not an easy crowd to play to; especially when you are a “psychedelic” guitar player. We did stay for the entire performance if for no other reason than in hopes that there would be a moment of breathtaking genius. There were a couple of songs that were inspiring, that had substance behind them, but overall it was somewhat repetitive. Mr Perry has been dabbling in the use of electronic looping – you play a riff, it’s recorded and then plays itself over and over again as you lay down new tracks on top. It’s an interesting concept but not necessarily new. I saw a fiddle player use the idea at the ASTA convention 2 years ago in the alternative styles competition. The problem is once you have seen someone like Leo Kottke or Mike Dowling in concert and you realize that it is not multiple tracks on their CDs but one amazing person playing like three musicians at once on a single instrument, it is hard to be impressed by the use of electronics that give you the same effect. Perhaps I went into this concert with the wrong attitude. I was kind of praying for an “Eric Clapton Unplugged” type of performance. It just didn’t really measure up.

Here is my take

1. Door County – very healthy when it comes to live music even during the “down” season.

2. White Gull Inn – if headed into town, I would definitely check this spot out for entertainment. Perhaps you will be lucky enough to be there on the right day.

3. Mojo Perry – not my cup of tea.

One small town, two great women and one weird musical combo

January 27, 2011

The Christmas holidays have come and gone. The children are back at their respective locations and I have once again started to travel the state in search of great small venues and interesting musical endeavors.

This past weekend after returning my son to school in De Pere, (go Green Knights!!) I headed over to the town of Wautoma and the McComb/Bruchs Performing Arts Center. I knew nothing of Wautoma prior to selecting it for a visit, other than the fact that it was just a hop, skip, and a jump from De Pere/Green Bay and therefore “on my way.” Wautoma is actually very similar to Hayward, my own home town. It has a population of just about 2000 with what appears to be a large number of homes on the adjacent lakes. It has a beautiful little downtown and a large number of incredibly friendly individuals. Since I did not want to drive over 4 hours after the concert, I booked a room at Pine Ridge – I’m sure at one point it was a farm with the farmhouse and barn still on the property but now it houses a lodge, restaurant, bar, and bunk house. With no room in the inn, I was in the bunk house. That doesn’t sound overly attractive but it was very very nice. No complaints at all – clean, new, well-appointed. I will have to say that even nicer than my accommodations was the friendliness of the hotel staff. They helped me find the Performing Arts Center, went on a wild goose chase for my lost mittens in the restaurant after hours, talked me through getting my direct t.v. working at almost midnight, and then found an open restaurant for me on Sunday morning since brunch didn’t start until 9AM and I needed to get on the road home. Without a doubt I will always stay here when I’m in the area.

The concert for the night was being held at the McComb/Bruchs Performing Arts Center. I will admit that I wasn’t overly excited about visiting this venue. Most performing art centers are nondescript; they look the same; they feel the same. There is little to write home about. This is not the case with the McComb/Bruchs. I think I will now refer to it as MB as this is shorter and thus faster to type. The MB has been in existence for the past 20 years. This is their 20th Season. The center was built when two women with foresight and presence of mind bequeathed significant funds for the sole purpose of building a performing arts center in a small Wisconsin town. Ms. McComb donated one million dollars and with it specific requirements for the building – everything from its approximation to the school, to the distance of the furthest seat from the stage (57 ft), to the necessity for bathrooms and showers within the dressing rooms. The seating is also very unusual as the rows are long; 38-40 seats with no center aisles. The only way to enter the rows is from the ends. This is not the traditional American model but Ms. McComb wanted it this way so that the performers would look out and see a sea of faces instead of an empty aisle. How brilliant is that? I should mention that Ms. Bruchs donated more than $200,000 to further the cause. The center is utilized not only for monthly concerts by nationally recognized artists but also by the schools, and the community choir, and the community theater guild. The center was to be seen as a resource for the entire area and it is obvious that they are fulfilling their mission beautifully. This is a performing arts center that I would be happy to attend on a regular basis.

Finally, the entertainment for the night was Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues. Okay this is a traditional string quartet (2 violins, 1 viola, and 1 cello) with Frank Donaldson seated on the floor playing percussion and Corky Siegel on harmonica and piano. This is a combination that shouldn’t work. This sounds like a combination where between it and three banjos, one should pick the banjos. But, and here is the big but, it works. It really works. The fusion of musical tones is a whole new and wonderful experience. It’s a marriage between the past and the present. Perhaps producing a new future. On this Saturday evening the ensemble was joined by Randy Sabien, jazz violinist. In a sense Randy plays with this idea of two worlds colliding on a daily basis playing “alternative’ music on the violin. In this case, however, he is involved in bridging an even further distance; bringing the classical world and the world of blues and jazz onto the same musical page. With or without Mr Sabien, this is an act that is worth experiencing. I will admit that I have no idea if the music plays out as well coming through your speakers as it does as when one experiences it in person. It may be one of those acts you need to experience initially up close and personal in order to fully appreciate.

Final Analysis:

1. Pine Ridge at Wautoma – worth every penny

2. McComb/Bruchs Performing Arts Center – my favorite to date

3. Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues – don’t miss them. You may question the sanity of it all but you won’t go home disappointed.

Next week – Door County and Mojo Perry

–Dayle Quigley

Bread to Drive For

February 7, 2010

by Joan Fischer

Have you ever eaten something so delectable that you felt slightly haunted ever after? So it was for me after trying fresh-from-the-oven bread—rustic peasant wheat, crispy yet moist baguette, foccacia with blue cheese and artichoke, and the best challah I have ever tasted—at an unassuming, you’d-drive-right-past-it bakery on Highway 14 in Arena. I’d stumbled upon it about a year ago and more recently decided I had to go back, despite a round trip of more than an hour.

“I’m the worst marketer in the world,” jokes owner Bob McQuade, 78. “The Shoppe: Herbs, Spices and More” is all you see on McQuade’s billboard, no mention of bread. But customers have been finding him anyway during his career as an executive chef (the former Spring Green Restaurant) and a master blender of herbs and spices that he sells to other chefs and home cooks (he did this as a booming wholesale business before semi-retiring 10 years ago). Jars and jars of them line a wall, most selling for 50 to 75 cents an ounce.

Especially popular with chefs and home cooks alike is a blend called Exotica, eight herbs and spices including coriander, juniper berries, thyme, onion, and garlic, which is especially good on roasted meat. Another favorite: Papa Bob’s Rib Rub. So original and bewitching are his seasonings that many chefs have purchased proprietary blends to serve as an exclusive signature for their dishes. Over the years his customers have included Madison’s legendary Ovens of Brittany, the Concourse Hotel, Food Fight, and the Edgewater Hotel.

In the shop he runs with wife Kate you’ll also find kitchen supplies (Berghoff knives, beautiful handmade maple cutting boards, ceramic serving dishes) and art. Yes, art. A large adjoining room is a gallery displaying work by local artists (John Sheean, Ed Wohl, Jean-Marc Richel) and exhibitions that change every four to six weeks. Nor do the café-style tables and chairs go to waste. Every Sunday people from the wider community gather for coffee and conversation over McQuade’s home-baked pastries. They call it “The Church of Sweet Rolls,” McQuade says. Visitors can also buy a selection of homemade frozen soups and sauces.

You can’t see a trace of it, but McQuade is half Italian. He learned cooking and baking from his mother and grandmother, who hailed from Sicily, and he and Kate have spent time with family there. They swoon over the food and know how to replicate it at home.

McQuade’s baked goods—which, in addition to bread, include biscotti, tirami su, and many kinds of cheesecake—are available at a few restaurants and other venues (examples: Convivio in Spring Green and Crossroads Coffee House in Cross Plains). His challah goes all the way to Bushel & Peck’s in Beloit. But if you’re at all in the area, you might as well drive straight to the source. You’re assured of delightful conversation and a very fragrant ride home.

The Shoppe at Herbs Spices & More
7352 Highway 14, Arena
Tel. 608-753-9000
e-mail: papabob@thespiceshoppe.com

Thurs. 10-5
Fri. 10-6
Sat. 10-5
Sun. 9-2
Closed Mondays
Open Tues./Wed. by chance

How To Do Local History

December 4, 2009

They know how to do local history in Winneconne. (long e’s, unless you’re a tourist). The village of 2,400 souls on the Wolf River northwest of Oshkosh has a preserved railroad depot/museum like many another community. It also has a 19th century house furnished in period style, also like many another place.

What Winneconne has that other places don’t is the Kay Wilde Doll Cottage, a picturesque stone cottage filled with antique dolls; and the Steamboat Museum, which is the real thing, at least in part. It consists of the main deck and pilot house of a genuine steamer that once plied the waters of the Fox and Wolf Rivers, refurbished and looking like it’s ready to make the run from Butte des Mortes to Orihula.

All these items fill a corner of the village park on the edge of town. To find more and arguably the best part of Winneconne’s historical cache, you have go downtown to the library.

There in a room specially- endowed is found the book collection of James P. Coughlin. A political leader who served as village president longer than most citizens can remember,  Coughlin was also a Winnebago county supervisor, board chair and county executive.  Politics was in his blood, but history was his passion. After retiring from county office in the early 1990s, Coughlin exercised his passion by collecting books.

His goal was to assemble the largest library of books about Wisconsin and/or by Wisconsin authors in the state, if not the USA. He wasn’t interested in big selling authors with a Wisconsin connection. Sorry David Maranniss, Jane Hamilton and Lorrie Moore.

No, he wanted the work compiled by, for example, the history committee of Mellen in Ashland County. These hard-working folks published two volumes in 1986, well over 1,000  pages, detailing the story of Mellen, population 300. They have roughly four pages of book for every person in town

After you’ve finished Mellen you can read the history of Alma on the Mississippi, Port Wing on Lake Superior, Oconto on Green Bay, or South Milwaukee on Lake Michigan. Just go to Winneconne.  Care about St. Bronislava parish in Plover, Trinity Lutheran in Arkdale, the Frei Gemeinde in Sauk City.? Their books are in Winneconne, too.

How about biographies? Of Senator Philetus Sawyer, General Joseph Bailey, or the thousands of lesser lights profiled in the hundred volumes of county histories on the Coughlin shelves.  Military history? How about the book on the Fourth Wisconsin Infantry Regiment in the Civil War, the story of the battleship USS Wisconsin, or of World War II air ace Richard Bong?

Pick a subject. Obscurity is not an obstacle: public statuary in Green Bay, the county highways of Winnebago, trout fishing on Green Lake,  the Sauk County hops boom, the Italian community of Iron County. It’s in a book in Winneconne.

The Coughlin collection is testimony to the man, but also to the thousands of  researchers, compilers, genealogists, news article clippers, obit snippers, the grabbers and holders of our local heritage. For the majority, this is their book, the only one they will ever publish.  Jim Coughlin understood and respected their work.

He died about a week ago.  His passion survives, along with that of the authors he honored by placing their work on the shelves of his library in Winneconne.

–Michael Goc

Ghostly Travels

October 30, 2009

Visiting ghosts in the local graveyard has been a popular activity for community historical and theatrical organizations for a few years now.  Many of us can’t resist the temptation to spend a bracing autumn morning or darkening fall evening midst the tombstones of our forebears.

The Adams County Historical Society held its Annual Cemetery Tour last Saturday.  I’ve served as researcher, script writer, tour guide–and ghost–for the Adams County tours for five or six years now.


Headstone of 19-year-old Lewis Knight, one of six men of Company E, 16th Wisconsin, who died at Shiloh in 1862. Strong's Prairie Cemetery, Adams County.

Our county has always had a small population spread over a large area, which means we have several dozen cemeteries located throughout a couple dozen towns.  Our modus operandi, therefore, is to load up a school bus full of ghost hunters, travel to two country cemeteries, meet five or six ghosts in each, then adjourn to a nearby country church whose members feed us a home cooked dinner that is worth the trip all by itself.

At the cemeteries, our tourists find ghosts poised at their graves, in period clothes, waiting to come to life and tell their stories.  Given the right story and the right ghost, they/we are transported to the past. The setting eases the journey. There is something about a graveyard that prompts reflection, opens us to past lives, our own and others.

Selecting ghostly storytellers can be a challenge.  As it is among the living, the population of our county among the dead is rather small.  Records are often absent. Memoirs few, and the editors of our weeklies did not pen lavish obituaries on everyone who passed, even in the era when such obits were standard newspaper fare.

So the first rule of selecting ghosts is that we actually have to know enough about a person to tell their story. No fiction, at least not deliberately, although this writer is sorely tempted not to let the facts impede the telling of a good story.

In part because records are available, but also because the sacrifice was so great, we visit with the ghost of one Civil War veteran each year.  In proportion to its population Wisconsin suffered more casualties in the Civil War than just about any other northern state. Evidence of that sacrifice is found in our cemeteries.

Of course, we visit the graves of the conventionally significant–the “firsters” who founded the towns, left their names on the map, acquired a measure of wealth, fame or infamy.

We also try to find the ghosts of  ordinary folks, or at least those generally perceived as ordinary, even though we know every grave in every cemetery marks a life unique unto itself.

So we find the 19th century farm “wife” remembered as the mother of six, eight, a dozen children, who invariably lost one or more in infancy. The tiny stones of the babies flank  her marker like children gathered round to hear her tell a pretty story–as perhaps she once did in life.

We also look for the long-lived. On our last tour, we visited the ghost of a woman born in 1899 who died in 2001. She, and we, were able to reflect on change over three centuries.


Headstone of Alson Kent at the foot of the only oak tree in Strong's Prairie Cemetery.

Occasionally we have a touchy moment, when the descendant of a ghost appears and wants to be sure we have grandma’s or grandpa’s story straight. We do, usually.

We can’t talk about ghosts without mentioning at least one sort-of eerie experience. In 2008 we told the story of Alson Kent, a seventeen year old boy who died in a logging accident. A huge oak tree he was felling snapped unexpectedly, kicked back off the stump, and crushed the youngster before he could escape.  Coincidentally or not, Kent is buried at the foot of the only large oak in the Strong’s Prairie Cemetery. It matches the newspaper description of the tree that killed him.

See you on the next tour.

–Michael Goc

The Gift of Communities

March 6, 2009

I got to go to New Glarus last week. This may not sound like a big thing but I am a rural guy who does not get out much. I was asked to go to a community event with the thought that it might be replicated in my neck of the woods. Kind of like I was a UN observer, but on a smaller scale, of course.

New Glarus is a great community in Green County, and although it has all kinds of things to do and buy and eat, you will often get a single-word response when you ask people what they know about the Village: Swiss!

Very Swiss.

The event was an annual Gift of Community celebration, and it was superb. It reminded me of the power of appreciation – the kind of community-building that occurs when we take a little time to recognize the folks who make our places better places. All nominees for various awards were cited, and it struck me that, even though there were winners, there were no losers. It was fun. It made people feel good. It charged human batteries. I got a free dinner.

Interloper that I was, it took a while to get acquainted with folks at the table. I was made quite welcome, but there was one little worry in the back of my mind. A question I anticipated and feared. Our conversations grew warmer and more personal and then it happened– the dreaded query was unleashed: “So………are you Swiss?”

Not a head turned nor an eye glanced my way, but I felt every nearby ear sharpen in anticipation of my response. Mom had not prepared me for this kind of stress. Mustering what I could, in fear of instant alienation, I squeaked my response. “No, I’m German.” I felt myself turn pale.

But I lived. Actually, I continued to be warmly accepted, and the conversations got more cordial and went every which way. I met new friends, and even heard someone remark that a neighbor of theirs had met a German once, too. He wasn’t such a bad egg.

Rural communities can be a lot like urban neighborhoods. They have unique identities–art and culture unique to their people, to their location and their history. A community’s uniqueness is a welcome sign. Come be part of us for a while.

So thanks to the good people of New Glarus for the lesson learned. I, too, received the gift of community, and I was reminded how neat it is for us all when we take the time to shine the spotlight on the neighbors whose everyday contributions are the bricks that build big, figurative edifices of warmth and inclusiveness.

I hope my little community and arts organization can do something like this soon, too. How about yours?

Ricky Rolfsmeyer

Executive Director, Wisconsin Rural Partners

Hollandale WI (pop. 283)