The trails and surrounding waterways that provide recreation, tourism, and transportation opportunities contributed to the Village of McFarland’s branding initiative in 2018, which generated a new logo and slogan: Naturally Connected. “We are a place of nature...with a small town feel but not too far from Madison,” said village President Brad Czebotar.
When the Lower Yahara River Trail opened in 2017, it created an important link between the southeast side of Madison at the newly renamed William G. Lunney Lake Farm County Park and McFarland at McDaniel Park. Bicycle commuters now have a safer and quicker way to get to work using the floating boardwalk and pedestrian bridge -- the longest in the state and what village Administrator Matt Schuenke considers the “most beautiful in the Midwest and country.”
Those who enjoy walking and fishing can do so on the bridge with views of Upper Mud Lake and Lake Waubesa, and they can easily explore the village and grab a bite to eat at a waterfront restaurant like The Green Lantern, for example. Eventually, this trail will continue south to Lake Kegonsa and the City of Stoughton. “It bridges barriers connecting our community,” said Dane County Parks Director Darren Marsh.
In its roughly 4-square-mile radius, McFarland has more than 60 acres of parks and 265 acres of open spaces and natural features. Among them are the softball diamonds at Brandt Park near the corner of Siggelkow Road and Terminal Drive, and Arnold Larson Park at the intersection of Farwell and Main Streets near the historic downtown.
“One of my proudest achievements is the development of Arnold Larson Park at one of the most visible corners in our village,” said Larry Chatman, who has lived in McFarland since 1976, has been an active member of the Lions Club for 42 years, and was named the village’s third Citizen of the Year. Chatman suggested that the Lions Club turn the torn down oil company site into “a lovely park with a gazebo that could be used for weddings, picnics, and community gatherings,” which now also features community band concerts and the annual Christmas tree lighting.
For views of the water, check out the Yahara River from Jaeger Park, Mud Lake from the observation deck at Lewis Park and Legion Memorial Park, and the wetlands from Marshwoods Park.
Meanwhile, you can access Lake Waubesa from Babcock County Park, which has a campground, boat launch, and accessible pier, and McDaniel Park, which has a beach, shelter, and kayak/canoe launch.
Other interesting parks include Indian Mound Conservation Park, featuring seven Indian burial mounds and walking paths, and John Urso Community Park, which serves as the village’s dog park.
William McFarland Park (named after the man who founded the village in 1856), which has soccer fields and a skateboard park close to ice arena, curling club, and bocce ball facilities on McFarland’s north side.
An aquatic study has been suggested that could potentially support a splash pad or swimming pool or enhance the swimming options at McDaniel Park. There have also been discussions about turning 36 acres on the east side of the village into a large community park, expanding the curling club, and adding picnic tables to the neighborhood parks.
The village’s proximity to Hwy. 51 and the Beltline allows for a short drive to the airport, university, or downtown, plus it’s easy to get to Milwaukee or Janesville from I-39/90.
“There is good connectivity to other parts of the state, which attracts businesses to McFarland,” said Pauline Boness, who has lived in the village since 1998 and recently retired as its community development director.
Among the largest employers in the village are Amtelco, which provides call center software, and the McFarland School District, which benefited from a recent $65 million referendum to accommodate the increased population growth by improving and expanding its schools.
“We have a good school system and just added more facilities that the public can use,” Czebotar said.
Several businesses, including the headquarters for ProClip USA mobile mounting solutions and the Redline Motorsports boat dealership, are located near Voges Road and Triangle Street.
Further south along Hwy. 51 you’ll find amenities like Walgreens, Pick ‘n Save, Culver’s, and Anytime Fitness, and locally-owned businesses such as The Montage furniture and home accessories retail store and Angelo’s Italian restaurant.
Schuenke said he has heard that people “want more sit-down restaurants,” along with more retail and specialty stores and fitness options, but “it’s unlikely you’ll see big box stores given our proximity to Madison.” Czebotar said legal services are also needed.
The village bought land on Farwell Street, part of a new TIF district, to develop for a mixed-use property, with service, retail, office, and restaurants expected to fill the space. Another mixed-use building is across Siggelkow Road from Brandt Park, which includes Waubesa Village apartments above and businesses like Quam Engineering, LLC, Little Spartans Child Development Center, and Edward Jones below.
“We have a healthy TIF 3, and 4 is getting there,” Boness said, citing construction on multi-family developments, improving existing businesses, planning for more commercial businesses, and annexing land on the east side for more residences.
“Hopefully more commercial and local businesses will pop up,” said McFarland Communications and Technology Director Stephanie Miller.
Miller said she moved to McFarland about three years ago because the rent fit her budget and it is close to Madison, but beyond that it’s “very family-oriented” and has “excellent schools.” The community also offers a youth center and library.
The population of McFarland has been steadily growing. In 2005 there were about 7,500 people living in the village, and that number is now closer to 8,500. But 35 years ago, when Czebotar moved to McFarland, the population was roughly half of that. “The community has grown significantly,” he said. “It’s possibly doubled in size with population, and within the last few years has grown geographically east -- to and across the freeway.”
As expected, this population growth has also translated into an increase of housing options. Since Schuenke started his position three years ago, there has been about one new apartment complex and permits for 8 new duplexes and 70 new single-family homes per year. New construction for Veridian and Tim O’Brien homes has been mostly happening on the east side of Holscher Road.
“Condos have blossomed over the last five years,” Boness said, including the new Parks Woods and Waubesa Shores condominiums. She expects to see a greater diversity of housing types in the future.
There will likely also be more senior housing, as Skaalen Retirement Services, Inc. purchased more land in McFarland with plans to develop an assisted living facility, Schuenke said.
“The village has grown as an organization, and we’ve added staff, police, public works, and library services to keep up with demand and development,” Schuenke said.
Schuenke envisions that there will be a recommitment to public facilities in the next decade and possibly “larger and more commercial and diverse land use development” since much of it is residential now.
“We are in the strategic planning process to look at our priorities and study a community senior center and public safety facility,” Czebotar said. “It’s a desirable place to locate; just look at the amenities.”
Chatman, who had worked in both real estate and insurance, and a group of other business people started the McFarland Business Association in 1982. Then in 1984, Chatman became its president and started a movement to become the McFarland Chamber of Commerce the following year and helped found the Family Festival and organized the Citizen of the Year Award.
“I found there were many local people who worked selflessly to help make McFarland a better place to live and to work,” Chatman said, citing his involvement in various activities, community committees, and circles of friends as what has made his time here so enjoyable. “Personally, I would not want to live anywhere else!”
McFarland was a good fit for Schuenke’s family when they moved there a year ago because of the parks, businesses, and events. “We are a welcoming, inclusive, neighborhood-centered community,” Schuenke said.
Among the most popular events is Christmas in the Village in early to mid-December, featuring a bonfire with hot chocolate and cider, a parade, and tree lighting near McFarland House Cafe in historic downtown.
And, if weather doesn’t interfere with the American Legion’s plans, a Memorial Day parade is held each May, followed by a chicken barbecue at the Lions Club.
For more than a decade, the village has also held a Community Service Day at the end of April in which residents can participate in volunteer opportunities, from cleaning up the streets, parks, and community gardens to washing police cars and fire trucks.
In the spirit of giving back, there are several other fundraising events held in the village throughout the year, some of which honor its residents. For example, the Matt Splinter Memorial Softball Tournament, held every June for nearly 15 years, has raised money for improvements at Brandt Park and the McFarland sports community. And the Aly Wolff Foundation’s fundraiser, Aly’s Honkey Tonk Hustle run/walk and after party, has been held each May for the last seven years, raising over $1 million for cancer research. Another pinnacle event is the Sundaes on Thursday music series held at the Arnold Larson Park gazebo from June through August. Proceeds from ice cream sundaes and root beer float sales are split between the McFarland Food Pantry and the community partners who help serve food that day.