A group of passionate Madison north side residents have joined together to preserve and celebrate the wild side of Warner Park.
Warner Park, founded in 1962, is Madison’s largest urban park. The park, encompassing just over 200 total acres, features 41 acres of “wild,” untouched land home to numerous birds, foxes, deer, rabbits and other animals and 60 acres of wetland.
The story of Wild Warner begins in the fall of 2009 when the city of Madison released a tentative neighborhood plan for the city’s north side. Details of the plan caught the eyes of some nature-loving north side residents. The plan called for numerous changes to Warner Park, including the addition of pontoon boats on the lagoon, a new soccer field, a new parking lot and more sidewalks.
A group of 25 residents appeared before the Madison Parks Commission where they asked for and won a delay in the plan. The controversial items were eventually removed from the final plan. The plan that was approved by the Madison city council had a statement written into it stating that Warner Park’s natural areas were to be “carefully evaluated to protect, preserve, and enhance habitat for birds, fish and other wildlife.”
In April 2010, the Parks Commission approved a plan that called for the kill of over 150 geese at Warner Park in order to protect Dane County Regional Airport. Many people were outraged at the plan, believing that the city had broken their promise to protect nature at Warner Park.
In response, a group of north side residents decided in July 2010 to formally create an organization to advocate for the protection of Warner Park’s wild side.
“People weren’t respecting the nature and its limitations and no one was speaking for the wild side,” said Wild Warner founding member Dolores Kester.
On Aug. 10, Wild Warner became a non-profit corporation. Doing so allowed the group to accept charitable contributions and also helped with grant eligibility.
The organization received their first grant of $2500 from the city of Madison last month. Members hope to use the money for a summer community learning project and materials, such as binoculars and magnifying glasses.
Jim Carrier, a writer and filmmaker, is the chair and co-founder of Wild Warner. Carrier designed and edits wildwarner.org and leads the group’s monthly meetings.
Carrier is pleased with the amount of progress the group has made in its short existence.
“We’ve only been around for a small time, I think we’re doing great work,” said Carrier.
The group speaks up for Warner Park’s wild side at city council and Parks Commission meetings. They also teach others about the park’s natural areas through events and nature walks, like the April 30 bluebird walk led by Paul Noeldner, an Audubon bluebird expert.
A birding club was recently founded at Sherman Middle School by Trish O’Kane, a leading member of Wild Warner and a graduate student at the UW-Madison Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. The “Bird Buddies” study the birds at nearby Warner Park. The middle schoolers spotted the yellow-bellied sapsucker, the 100th different bird species found in Warner Park, last month. Warner Park is home to 105 known birds species as of May 3, according to O’Kane.
Carrier called the Bird Buddies programs “another feather in our cap.”
The Madison Parks Commission unanimously decided last month that the Cyclo-Cross bike race would not be held at Warner Park in 2011 after members of Wild Warner spoke up in opposition of the race. Last fall, members of Wild Warner worked with organizers of Cyclo-Cross, held on Nov. 7, to lessen the race’s impact on the park’s nature areas.
“The Parks Commission finally recognized that we have nature that needs to be preserved. Warner Park is visible as nature to people that didn’t see it that way before,” Carrier said at the Wild Warner meeting held on May 3.
A few members of Wild Warner, nicknamed the “geese peeps,” focus on the protection of Warner Park’s geese. The city is in the midst of developing a goose management plan. Throughout the process, Wild Warner has been giving the city advice on how to control the goose population without killing the geese.
“We want the park to be an example of humane management,” said O’Kane.
Wild Warner’s next step is to expand and become a more formal organization.
Nine members attended the May monthly meeting at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center, and according to Carrier, their biggest meeting had just over 20 attendees. The group has an e-mail list of about 50 people.
“Right now we’re just a great group of volunteers,” said O’Kane.
In recruiting new members, Carrier said he hopes the group can better reflect the north side by becoming more diverse. All nine members who attended the May 3 meeting were Caucasian.
Carrier also wants the group to create a develop a charter with some formal rules and regulations.
Even at their small size, Wild Warner will continue to fight to preserve the wild side of Warner Park.
“I love this park, and I want to preserve it so future generations can enjoy it too,” said Kester.
I wrote this story in May 2011 for my advanced reporting class at UW-Madison. I’m covered the Sherman neighborhood of Madison, WI.