Inclusivity is focus of Jenni and Kyle Preserve

Posted by Samantha Haas on Tuesday, March 13th, 2018 at 3:18pm.

Some parks require hiking to the top of a hill to experience a beautiful vista, and other sites can be enjoyed while seated. That is just one of the many reasons the Jenni and Kyle Preserve is so special.

This natural area near Madison and Fitchburg provides educational and recreational opportunities for people of all ages and abilities. Of the handful of Dane County Parks that offer accessible fishing sites, the Jenni and Kyle Preserve has the most at eight, as well as accessible nature trails, a sheltered picnic area, and two wheelchair swings.

The park was named in memory of siblings Jenni and Kyle Geurkink, who both died in the 1980s of a degenerative neurological disorder before they turned 4. Their grandparents, Harvey and Patricia Wilmeth, helped make the park a reality with a donation in 1989.

Located on the northwest side of the Capital Springs Recreation Area, this park near the marsh surrounds Nine Springs Creek. The Friends of Capital Springs Recreation Area, Inc. is the nonprofit group that helps steward the park, which features two spring-fed ponds with trout and panfish. As a park rule, the ponds are only for children 14 years or younger and people with permanent disabilities who might otherwise not be able to enjoy fishing.

The shelter faces the ponds and features picnic tables, restrooms, and a colorful mosaic called "The Seasons through the Senses."

Sally Wilmeth and Terry Geurkink, the parents of Jenni and Kyle, were the primary donors for the seasonal inspirations mural. The 11'x9' mural was produced by VSA Wisconsin in collaboration with Dane County Parks, Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission, MARC-South, and Walbridge School. Nearly 70 individuals with disabilities spent 80 hours on the mural, which is composed of over 15,000 tiles with scenes of the park in winter, spring, summer, and fall.

When the mosaic mural was unveiled in 2011, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said the park is "truly a special place that connects people with disabilities to all nature has to offer."

Kiosks are located throughout the park to help visitors navigate and learn about its features. They describe the animals that visit the marsh and ponds, like muskrat, deer, ducks, herons, and raccoons, as well as the fish, frogs, and turtles under the surface. Visitors are also asked to listen to the birds and insects, like finches, grasshoppers, bees, and dragonflies darting above the cattails and flowers.

According to the Dane County Parks and Open Space Plan survey, respondents would like the department to continue removing barriers to maintain and attract a diverse population to its parks, add more facilities for the elderly or those using wheelchairs, and provide activities and opportunities that will attract youth and connect them with nature.

"The Jenni and Kyle Preserve continues to grow by leaps and bounds thanks to the generous donations from the Wilmeth family and others," Bill Lunney, chair of the Dane County Parks Commission, said at the mural unveiling. "The ability to offer something for everyone year after year is what makes the preserve, and all of our county parks, true gems in our communities."

In the fall of 2017, Madison Parks also opened its first playground accessible to children with disabilities at Brittingham Park. Others are planned for Elver Park and Reindahl Park in 2018 and 2019, respectively, with two more coming in the future.

To view more photos of the park, visit this Facebook album by Friends of Dane County Parks. 

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