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Saturday, January 24, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 31.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Volunteers are told to move 'ugly' prairie at Warner Park
Get that prairie out of our parking lot!
The Warner Park prairie garden, from a photo taken last
The Warner Park prairie garden, from a photo taken last year.

It all started in aerobics class. Rose Ann Scott was working out five years ago at the Warner Park Community and Recreation Center when she got to talking to classmates about a traffic circle in the parking lot. They all felt it was a bit of an eyesore.

Then Scott, a neighborhood resident, got an idea: "I said, 'Let's put in a prairie.'"

Warner Park embraced the proposal, and Scott and others planted the garden of native plants. "Once you reestablish a natural habitat, it can be left to flourish on its own," she says. "It's self-sustaining."

But the garden has outgrown its welcome. Scott and her friends have been told they must move it or lose it by April 18.

Brad Weisinger, facility manager for Warner Park, says many people have complained about the garden: "They think it's ugly."

Scott admits that prairies are an acquired taste. "You have to learn to like them," she says. "It's not a neat tidy lawn. You have to train people to see beauty in other than a mowed lawn."

Laura Whitmore, spokeswoman for the Madison Parks Division, says the city likes prairie gardens, but "that small space right in front of the park isn't appropriate for a prairie. Warner Park is a very large park, and we have a lot of no-mow gardens. If the volunteers are willing, we'd love to have them move it."

Scott says no thanks: "It's a massive amount of work to do what we've done. We did this with the idea that it would be there forever. Who wants to move a huge garden? It takes two, three years to get a prairie going again."

Weisinger says his staff would be willing to help move the prairie. Otherwise, "we're moving ahead with a different plan." The prairie could be replaced with perennials, public art, benches or grass.

Peter Cannon, program chair of the Madison Audubon Society, thinks that's a shame. "Somehow the English croquet field has become the norm for the American yard," he says. "And it has always astonished me the amount of time and money we put into that. Warner has got a heck of a lot of grass."

He adds, "It irks me a little bit that they're so cavalier about five years of effort on the part of volunteers."

Hulsey vs. the deputies

Dane County Supv. Brett Hulsey is running for reelection against Greg Hull, but you might think his opponent is the Dane County Deputy Sheriff's Association.

The group has been sending out flyers attacking Hulsey, who supported the deal that led to deputies taking a pay cut, like all other county employees. He says the mailings are full of lies, misinformation and personal attacks.

"I do not believe it's proper for people who are sworn to protect the public to be misleading the public," says Hulsey, who has demanded a retraction, to no avail. "If they were to say those things in court, it could be perjury."

The association blames Hulsey, who chairs the County Board's Personnel and Finance Committee, for the county's spiraling budget, which led to the employee pay cuts. Hulsey counters that of most of the $117.6 million surplus spending was for airport expansion, paid for by airport users, and for refinancing that saved more than it cost. The only excess expenditure over which the county has control, he argues, was $13.6 million in deputy overtime.

Bob Richardson, the deputy's association president, scoffs at this: "The only thing the County Board had control over was the Sheriff's Office overtime overspending? If this were true, then what the heck does the County Board have control over?"

The deputies association is backing Hull in the April 6 election. Hulsey, meanwhile, is using the group's attacks as part of his campaign, producing a lit piece (PDF) that boasts, "Brett Stood Up to Deputy Association Threats."

Presidential politics

Ald. Lauren Cnare won't run for Madison Common Council president, leaving Ald. Mark Clear the only declared candidate.

But lobbying continues behind the scenes. Alders dissatisfied with the current leadership are looking for someone to challenge Clear, who has been president pro tem for two years under President Tim Bruer.

"Mark has run on a platform over two years that he has said he would do certain things, principally communicate with other members of council, that he has failed miserably at," says Ald. Larry Palm, who is considering running if no one else challenges Clear.

Cnare says she decided to run for pro tem instead because she didn't have enough support. "I don't want to cause a big rift in the center of the council," she says. "I know there are preferences forming. And they have to do with little things, like did you vote with me enough."

Backyard education

When teachers think about organizing class field trips, they generally imagine a bus trip. But Timothy Peterson, coordinator of the Madison Metropolitan School District's science program, wants to get them thinking on a neighborhood level.

"What features are in a school's backyard? What things can we use to tie to the curriculum, not just with science but sociology, history and art?" Peterson asks. "What's in a five-minute walk, what's in a 10-minute walk? Teachers could potentially take their class out once a week or three days in a row."

And so Peterson is cataloging things like parks, woods, architecture and effigy mounds on or near school property. The inventory will be listed on the school's website, along with suggestions for how teachers can incorporate it into lessons.

Taking excursions close to school can save money. And, says Peterson, it helps connect students to their environs: "If a student does water-quality work on the Yahara River and they're able to do that over time, that becomes real to them, because they can ride their bike there on non-school hours and show mom and dad what they're doing."

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