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WI Planning Association Awards Middleton ''Great Places'' Award

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November 21, 2017

At their annual awards ceremony in Milwaukee on October 27, the Wisconsin Planning Association recognized the City of Middleton for its incredible work to preserve, protect and enhance the Pheasant Branch Conservancy with the designation of “Great Places in Wisconsin”. City Planning Director Eileen Kelley accepted the award on behalf of the City. Connie White, a longtime Plan Commissioner, had nominated the City for the award with Ms. Kelley’s assistance.

Middleton residents, City officials, the Friends of Pheasant Branch and our partners in work to keep the Conservancy a natural gem in Wisconsin have much of which to be proud.

Following are excerpts from the application:

Location and Brief Description
The Pheasant Branch Conservancy (PBC) is over 300 acres of City-owned land located within the City of Middleton, northwest of Lake Mendota in Dane County. It combines with approximately 160 acres owned by Dane County and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (for which the City contributed partial funding). The PBC encompasses wetland, woodlands, lowland forests, prairies and oak savannas.

What makes the Place Great?  What makes Pheasant Branch Conservancy so great is the location within the City, the size of the conservancy, the accessibility, the shared use trail networks (which accommodates walkers, runners, bicyclists, wheelchairs and strollers), the wildlife habitat (and management) and the vegetation and restoration efforts that have occurred through the years. As one avid birdwatcher stated recently “I think one of the things that makes Pheasant Branch Conservancy great for birdwatchers is the number and diversity of migratory songbirds they can see (and hear) during spring and fall migration.”

As described in the 2011 Conservancy Lands Plan, “The city of Middleton has a long history of preserving its significant environmental and natural resource areas. In the early 1960’s, Walter Bauman, former mayor of Middleton, realized the value of the city’s unique resources, especially the Pheasant Branch Watershed. He recognized the importance of this special natural area in the midst of the rapidly urbanizing Madison Metropolitan Area. He and others (on the Park, Recreation and Forestry Commission and the Water Resources Management Commission and the Common Council) worked hard to provide for the protection and eventual acquisition of the Pheasant Branch Conservancy and the surrounding conservancy lands.”

The Conservancy is also great because of the efforts of the Friends of Pheasant Branch, a non-profit group whose mission is to “to restore, preserve and promote the value of conservancy lands and other habitats in the Pheasant Branch watershed for today and tomorrow”. The Friends’ work has included fundraising, writing applications for and receiving various grant funding, education, restoration and other wonderful programs that help to enhance the Conservancy and resident’s enjoyment of the area.

How has the Conservancy adapted to growth and change? Through the collective efforts of various City entities (the Parks Commission, the Conservancy Lands Commission, the Public Lands Department, the Water Resources Management Commission, the Plan Commission and the Common Council) and the Friends of Pheasant Branch, the Conservancy has adapted wonderfully to Middleton’s population growth and development. As the City has grown (from approximately 10,000 people in 1980 up to approximately 19,500 today), there has been an increasing number of people who are able to enjoy the Conservancy, and who support the protection and restoration efforts. The City has adopted stringent storm water management ordinances, in part in recognition of the value the Conservancy has in water quality efforts for the area. As stated in the 2011 Conservancy Lands Plan “With the extensive planning and protection work of the 1960’s and continuing today, the Pheasant Branch Conservancy Area and Middleton’s other conservancy lands have been preserved for the benefit of all people, wildlife and the natural environment.

How does the Pheasant Branch Conservancy add value to the community? The Conservancy adds incredible value to the City of Middleton. The City has a tax base of over $3 billion dollars, of which over 40% is non - residential. The City is a net importer of jobs, with more than 8,000 people coming into the City to work every day than leaving to work elsewhere in Dane County. So, the City’s daytime population is much larger than the official population. The Conservancy offers a place for quiet reflection, exercise, commuting or recreating on the extensive trail network, or simply enjoying and appreciating nature, for the residents and employees who spend time in the City and for visitors from far and wide throughout the day and evening hours, weekends, and through all the seasons. The Conservancy acts as an outdoor classroom for the elementary, middle school and high school students in the District and beyond. Friends’ volunteers of all ages enjoy helping out with habitat maintenance on restoration workdays, in governance and on special event activities, giving young and old alike the opportunity to participate fully in their community and to gather together with old friends, make new friends and preserve and protect habitat right in their community. The community gardens and forest provide food and experiences that bring the community together in work and in celebration of nature.

The Friends have been collaborating with community organizations for years. For example, the Make a Memory program extends to older citizen groups that formerly may not have had the opportunity to enjoy nature’s green spaces. The Friends were recently awarded a grant to enhance programming for a diverse community. With these funds, they will develop and implement strategies designed to facilitate use of the Conservancy and foster relationships with senior citizens and people with dementia. Other fun events include the “Tunes on Tuesdays” program provides an “open mic” to any acoustic musicians and is a weekly summer celebration that brings a number of listeners to enjoy music in a natural setting. The “Prairie Chase Run/Walk” is another community event that raises funds for the Conservancy. The Friends offer a Master Naturalist Volunteer training course for folks interested in environmental education.

Summary
The Pheasant Branch Conservancy of Middleton, Wisconsin has a rich ecology and cultural and geologic history, with water and soil resources managed in a beautiful, natural way People can visit this place and easily step into nature every day of the year to make those needed connections between humans and the incredible Wisconsin landscape. It is truly a Wisconsin Great Place!