JEFFERSON — An unkempt property full of dead and dying ash trees and weeds has been transformed into a recreational gem in the heart of the City of Jefferson.

The new Meadow Springs Conservancy Park mixes wooded areas with mature oak, ginkgo and other trees with prairie areas newly replanted with native flowers and grasses.

Through it all winds a new one-mile broad, paved trail. A quarter mile of this new loop includes a story walk managed by the Jefferson Public Library and which features books that can be enjoyed by children and families one page at a time as they walk.

Saturday marked the dedication and ribbon-cutting for the trail, attended by neighbors, city planners and employees, developers and community members alike.

“This is a culmination of two years of work by a lot of good people,” said Jefferson Mayor Dale Oppermann.

“The project is still a work-in-progress,” the mayor added, noting that it will take a couple of years for the new plantings to really get established and the park to look the way it is designed to.

However, the new park and trail already are attracting a lot of use by area pedestrians, dog-walkers, bikers and skateboarders interested in getting out in nature and taking advantage of the new paved trail.

Oppermann gave special credit to neighboring residents who helped kick the whole project off when they contacted the city about dangerous dead and dying ash trees on the old golf course property which bordered their yards.

Earlene Ronk and her husband Peter were the first to contact the city to see if something could be done about the precarious trees and the scruffy property. (Sadly, Peter since has passed away, but his involvement in the process is marked by a special bench dedicated to him that provides respite along the trail.)

Soon the Ronks were joined by other neighbors who happily signed on to the effort to repurpose the property and make it an asset for the whole community.

Along with the Ronk family’s bench, dedicated in Peter’s memory, neighboring residents Max and Susan Wilde also have donated a bench along the trail, theirs featuring a Shakespeare quote.

Playing an essential part in the process was Madison Golf, which owned the former Meadow Springs Golf Course that had closed a decade ago.

Also playing a major role were numerous City of Jefferson officials, city Parks and Recreation and Public Works Department staff, and the Jefferson City Council.

Later on, Jefferson Public Library, its library board and Friends of the Library group, with the support of donations and a major grant from Theisen’s Home, Farm and Auto, stepped in to plan the Story Walk along a portion of the trail.

None of it would have happened without the initial spur from neighboring residents, the mayor said, followed by the property owner’s willingness to sell to the city.

“In November of 2019, the city had a very rare, one-time opportunity to acquire 35 acres of undeveloped green space located just four to five blocks from our historic downtown,” Oppermann said.

That’s when the city started its work to repurpose the under-utilized and under-maintained former golf course area, with the idea of turning it into a passive recreation area that generations of local residents will be able to enjoy in perpetuity.

A secondary benefit of the city purchasing this property was that it gave Jefferson planners a way to address the chronic shortage of housing in the area, Oppermann said.

After the city acquired the property, the mayor said the first order of business was to take down more than 50 trees which had been sickened fatally after Emerald Ash Borer spread into the area.

Earlene Ronk described how she watched city workers take down the trees and transform the land using a Bobcat, chains and “brute force,” and how, from the start, the transformation has seemed “magical” to her.

Less visibly but just as importantly, lots of planning also was going on behind the scenes, as city planners worked with Vandewalle and Associates on a design for the rededicated areas.

Oppermann acknowledged Bill Pinnow, city engineer and public works director; Cyndi Keller, director of parks, recreation and forestry for the city; and numerous city employees for their role in helping the process along.

As they worked on plans for the property, the city also connected with Loos Custom Homes, a local developer based in Johnson Creek, to see if that company was interested in creating homes along the new conservancy property.

For its part, the company was honored to be asked, with representatives saying that the conservancy property was an “excellent opportunity” to build homes close to existing amenities and a beautiful new natural area.

Representatives said their goal was to provide quality, affordable homes in the right location, and they could not have chosen a better location than right there.

“It will be two years before 14 additional single homes and several duplexes are constructed,” the mayor said.

However, the planning process is well underway.

Oppermann said he likes to think that the founders of the Meadow Springs Golf Course, which started in the 1930s and flourished for many decades where the new park and trail now stand, would be pleased with the new use the property has been put to.

Melissa Anderson, Jefferson Public Library director, said her staff, board and supporters jumped at the chance to place a new Story Walk along the conservancy trail, following the lead of two other Jefferson County communities: Fort Atkinson and Watertown.

The story walk provides weather-protected, page-by-page spots to display a story families and children can read as they walk the trail. The featured story can be changed out from month to month or whenever coordinators feel is appropriate.

“I always had the idea we should do one in Jefferson, and we wanted to take advantage of this moment of opportunity,” Anderson said.

The librarian said that as with the conservancy as a whole, the Story Walk project has been a great partnership between the city departments, business leadership and the community. The fund drive, expected to last months, actually met its goal early and assured the project’s success.

While not located in the library itself, the Story Walk project very much fits in with the library’s mission of increasing accessibility, the library director said, providing resources that benefit the whole community, and, of course, promoting literacy for the youngest children on up.

Load comments