by Samantha Haas
on Tuesday, December 17th, 2019 at 9:43am.
What started as a visit to Dane County’s newest gem, Morton Forest near Mazomanie, turned into a “bucket list” of parks for one Madison couple.
(Michael and Jeanne Mraz stopped at Ferry Bluff State Natural Area after their Dane County Parks adventure, and they continue to explore the beautiful parts of our county and state.)
Jeanne and Michael Mraz have always enjoyed outdoor activities, especially mountain biking at CamRock County Park in Cambridge, hiking at Indian Lake County Park near Cross Plains, and cross-country skiing.
But the lack of snow in recent years meant they had to get creative finding fun, healthy things to do together in the winter.
So when they saw a newspaper article about Morton Forest, they decided to explore its trails overlooking the Driftless Area in November 2017.
That’s when Jeanne came up with an idea for them to go to all of the Dane County Parks that either had biking or hiking or paddling opportunities as a convenient way to be active year-round.
Nearly every weekend through August 2018, Jeanne and Michael opened up their map, went on an excursion, and checked off another park from their list -- over 20 in total. They said they only missed parks that were primarily boat launches or that were flooded.
“For us it was a nice way to be moving outside and seeing beautiful things in nature,” Michael said. “The cool part is we got to see how wonderful the parks are and the transitions of every season.”
Memorable sights included a blanket of shooting stars during the spring ephemeral bloom at Yahara Heights County Park in Waunakee, sandhill cranes and an eagle’s nest at Lussier County Park near Fish Lake, pheasants at none other than Pheasant Branch Conservancy in Middleton, and expansive views of the Driftless Area from the Festge County Park overlook near Cross Plains.
Along their hikes they also read signs about the history of these places and discovered connections to their own lives. For example, Jeanne’s family used to hold reunions at Mount Horeb’s Stewart Lake, which she learned was the first Dane County Park established in 1935. Their bucket list was also an excuse to stop and see parks they’d driven past before, like Donald County Park, which became one of their favorites.
“We love to be outside, and we are missing having a goal like that,” Jeanne said this fall, over a year after their Dane County Parks adventure. “Conservation and green space are really important to us. We wish everyone would do it -- it’s a nice way to enjoy the parks,” Michael added.
Author's note: This article was written for the Winter 2019/2020 newsletter for the Foundation for Dane County Parks, a local nonprofit that Mad City Dream Homes supports. To learn more about the nonprofit, visit its Facebook page and view the following related articles.
Photo credit: Jeanne and Michael Mraz (Pheasant at Pheasant Branch Conservancy; Shooting star flowers at Yahara Heights Park; Jeanne Mraz at Donald County Park).