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Tuesday, January 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 27.0° F  Overcast
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MPD tries new ways to curb bad behavior at Olin-Turville
'Hey you, knock that off!'
Balles at the park, with Walker: 'We're trying to get people
into the woods who will enjoy the woods.'
Balles at the park, with Walker: 'We're trying to get people into the woods who will enjoy the woods.'
Credit:Bill Lueders

On March 27, in the early afternoon, a mother and her daughter were having lunch while parked at Olin-Turville Park, off John Nolen Drive in Madison. Their experience was less than pleasant.

A man they'd seen driving in loops parked next to their car and began making motions the woman interpreted as "jacking off." Police cited the man for disorderly conduct; he later agreed to pas a $298 fine. According to the police report, [the man] "stated that he had been harassed in the past by males driving around insinuating he was gay." He stressed that he wasn't. [Note: The print version of this story named the individual; but conflicting accounts about the incident have prompted us to amend it here.]

Even public masturbators, apparently, have bad times at Olin-Turville.

Capt. Joe Balles, commander of the Madison Police Department's south district, mentions this incident in explaining why his Community Policing Team is fed up with people who use Olin-Turville "for purposes other than park recreation." He says they see the area "littered with condoms, sex magazines, jelly - it's just ridiculous."

Last Friday afternoon, in the parking lot closest to Turville Woods, cars scatter as Balles arrives with Michele Walker, one of the team's officers. The police lead an expedition to popular rendezvous spots, littered with condom wrappers, used condoms and tissues. Says Walker, "We clearly have a user group that uses their park very intently - but not for the right reasons."

Balles says police have been collecting data on cars in the lot; in April alone, they identified more than 300 cars associated with people believed to use the park for "cruising and anonymous sex." The cars were from all over Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

Olin-Turville, apparently, is known far and wide as a place to break out the jelly with someone you've just met. To Balles, this suggests periodic crackdowns are futile: "If we go in and make 50 arrests, a year from now we'll have the same exact problem."

And so the MPD wants to instead increase the number of other users at Olin-Turville - a 117-acre park jewel that is by all accounts underutilized. The theory is that more eyes will mean fewer ahs. Says Balles, "We're trying to get people into the woods who will enjoy the woods." Not just the wood.

Beginning in late September, the park opened its paths for the first time to people with leashed dogs. This "test pilot" run will continue through mid-October.

"Our main goal is to reduce the amount of inappropriate behavior that goes on there," says city parks spokeswoman Laura Whitmore. If the pilot is deemed successful, dogs might be allowed in on a more permanent basis.

There is also talk about adding paved paths through Turville Woods, to attract the many bikers, hikers and joggers who take the Lake Monona loop. Balles says city park staff is receptive to the idea: "We're getting some green lights out there."

Art Ross, the city's bicycle safety coordinator, thinks the hilly terrain of Olin-Turville would be ideal for mountain bike trails. This could even be helpful in ongoing city efforts to get the International Mountain Bike Association to pick Madison for its annual convention.

Meanwhile, city traffic engineering is looking into closing the frontage road that lets people "cruise" in loops through the park or restricting use of the lot.

Bob Stoffs of the Bay Creek Neighborhood Association, which has met with police and parks staff on these issues, is pleased with these developments.

"It's a wonderful park," he says. "It seems such a shame to have such a gorgeous piece of land that isn't being used by the public in general because of a small group that is using it for other purposes."

North bike path still possible - no bologna

Madison officials have long hoped to build a bike path connecting the city's north side to the downtown. A segment was added two years ago, along the Yahara River to East Johnson, but plans to extend it further have been stymied.

In late 2006, the state thumbed its nose at a funding request and, in recent years, Union Pacific railroad has rebuffed city offers and overtures, even those from Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. Says Tony Fernandez of city engineering, "It's just been a total stonewall."

So now the city is pursuing a more modest path, between Commercial and Aberg Avenues, to run behind Oscar Mayer. Instead of the original "Sherman Flyer," the shorter proposed route - which would provide an alternative to the most harrowing section of Sherman Avenue - is called the "Ruskin Cutoff."

"[Former city engineer] Larry Nelson, bless him, was very good at giving potential bike paths catchy names," says Fernandez. But, he adds, "Who knows what it will be called if we build it?"

The city has come up with several possible routes through the Oscar property. "As long as it gets us from Point A to Point B, we'll be happy," says Fernandez, noting that Oscar officials have agreed to a meeting on Oct. 14. "At this point, we're seeing them as a partner."

C'mon all, let's give it a try:

"Our bike path has a first name, it's O-S-C-A-R. Our bike path has a second name, it's M-A-Y-E-R. Oh, we love to ride it every day, and if you ask us why we'll say ... 'Cuz Oscar Mayer has a way with B-I-K-E-P-A-T-H!"

UW gets pass on sheep deaths

Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard has concluded that the UW-Madison is breaking the law every time it kills sheep through experiments involving decompression, just as local activists have charged (Watchdog, 8/28/09). The bad news, from their point of view, is that he's not going to do anything about it.

"[I]t would not be a wise use of the resources of this office to pursue forfeiture actions for each sheep death in connection with peer-reviewed, potentially life-saving research," Blanchard wrote in a letter to the UW last Friday.

The UW argued in a letter to Blanchard ("Sheepish Response," 9/25/09) that the sometimes fatal experiments, meant to simulate the reactions of deep sea divers ("the bends"), do not run afoul of a state law against killing animals by means of decompression. It said that the Legislature meant to ban decompression as a euthanasia technique, and that sheep deaths are not an intended consequence, although it admits that at least 26 sheep have died over the last decade.

Blanchard rejects both arguments, saying "the plain language of the statute is unambiguous," and intent is not needed to establish a violation. Thus, "it is a civil violation each time an animal dies" from decompression. He says that if the UW considers this "an absurd legal result," since it can freely subject animals to "even very painful" decompression, it can ask the Legislature for a research exemption for decompression deaths. (For Blanchard's letter, see here.)

This response angers Lyn Pauly, co-director of the local Alliance for Animals. "Why should the UW care what the law prohibits if it is not subject to its penalties anyway?" she asks, "The district attorney's decision... reinforces what everyone already knows: Animal experimentation at the UW is above the law."

Partners wanted

Tom Allen, general manager of WKOW-TV, says his recent letter to local medical professionals seeking "potential partners to educate the community on health issues related to your specialty and others" was never meant to blur the lines between news and advertising: "It's a sales and marketing initiative that's Internet-based."

Allen confirms that these partners will pay WKOW to be included in this "category sales" offer, called "Health Connections," similar to the "Home Connections" list of home-improvement experts now on the station's website. But he stresses that the listings have "no tie whatsoever to news."

The appeal, however, says WKOW "takes pride in being a news and health information leader in the Madison area" and promises that those who participate will have "the highest possible visibility for each specialty positioned as an authority in your field."

An Associated Press article on the initiative got picked up by the Chicago Tribune and mentioned by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. UW Health has bristled at the appeal, as did UW podiatrist Alan Kalker, one of the recipients of Allen's letter, telling Isthmus: "I imagine Walter Cronkite turning over." But after hearing from WKOW's sales rep, Kalker agreed the deal involves "some element of separation" from the news department.

Allen says that the station made a "blanket" offer to area practitioners - "I probably signed 800 letters" - but that the opportunity to be presented as "an authority in your field" will go to the first person in each specialty "who says I want to be part of Health Connections."

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