Monona officials and community members, concerned about a suggested expanse of concrete walkway and other changes eyed for Stone Bridge Park, asked at a Sept. 3 listening session that a draft park plan be revised to better retain the lakefront site’s natural character.
Monona Parks and Recreation Director Jake Anderson said representatives from Strand Associates’ Parkitecture and Planning Division will make the requested updates and bring those back to a Thursday, Sept. 17 meeting of the city’s Parks and Recreation Board.
Anderson said the hope is to complete the final park design this year and for construction to occur in 2021. The city is awaiting word on a grant from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, to help cover the cost.
Several dozen community members joined in the Sept. 3 virtual listening session, which lasted more than two hours.
Ald. Doug Wood, chair of the Parks and Recreation Board, thanked those who spoke. “I think the public input was really huge tonight,” he said.
Revisions that the Parks and Recreation Board has requested Strand make, based on the meeting input, include removing one stretch of what was to be an 8-foot-wide, multi-looped, concrete walkway. Also being removed from the plan is a concrete observation deck near a historic pagoda. The observation deck was to be accessed by the now-removed loop of pathway.
The main stretch of new handicap-accessible walkway, that would wind down from the park entrance on Winnequah Road to a pier at the Lake Monona shoreline, would remain in the plan.
Some speakers at the Sept. 3 meeting also expressed concern about the recommended leveling out of the hilly terrain mid-park, as part of a complex plan to install a large new underground storm sewer system from Winnequah Road down to the lake.
Ensuring that the storm water system, designed to handle a 100-year rain, is adequately buried will require about three new feet of new fill in the middle of the park, officials said. The storm water system’s underground chambers would be up to six-feet high, officials said.
The center of the park, now both hilly and punctuated by a deep ravine, would be leveled out into a large grassy area that would more gradually slope toward the lakeshore.
Currently, the vertical drop from Winnequah Road to the lake is significant, about 15 feet, officials said.
The storm water upgrade is part of a broader city storm water improvement project that aims to reduce flooding and whose water quality goals include reducing phosphorus flow into Lake Monona.
The Stone Bridge Park upgrades are “primarily a storm water management project,” Anderson said.
City officials and consultants said planning at the park has been complicated by the need to work around an existing buried sanitary sewer pipe. It runs close to a historic pagoda in the park, that is being preserved. Several legacy oak trees in the park are also planned to be saved, Anderson said
“Preserving those (oak) trees is very high on my list,” Anderson said, adding, however, that this limits the city’s flexibility in setting the walkway’s route.
Seven ash trees “all dead or in decay,” are planned to be removed, Anderson noted.
The city weighed relocating the sanitary sewer pipe but found the cost to be “not feasible…and it doesn’t really fix any of our issues,” Anderson said.
Preservation of the Springhaven Pagoda, located in the park since the 1880s, is a priority of the city’s Landmarks Commission. A historical preservation plan for the pagoda was adopted in 2016.
Monona Mayor Mary O’Connor said she is “very concerned,” about protecting the pagoda. “I want to make sure we are handling that the right way,” O’Connor said.
Plans are progressing to restore the structure’s deteriorated roof, with bids for that expected to be sought in coming weeks, City Planner Doug Plowman said.
Strand’s proposed park plan would cut back some of the hillside near the pagoda, to make it harder for vandals to access its roof. Some speakers on Sept. 3 expressed hope that historic paving stones around the pagoda, buried over time, could be unearthed.
Officials said the 8-foot-wide concrete walkway would make the park accessible to those with disabilities and make it easier to carry kayaks, canoes and other small non-motorized boats to the park’s lakeshore pier.
The park plan calls for shifting an existing pier by about 8 feet, to line it up with the proposed new walkway.
The proposed plan also includes new waterside stone steps for launching small boats. The park is heavily used by the Lake Monona Sailing Club and other groups and individuals for launching small watercraft.
Near the shore, the walkway is proposed to be bordered by new limestone walls, that would be at seating height. Strand representatives characterized those as additional places to watch sunsets and to enjoy the park’s tranquility.
Too much concrete
While speakers on Sept. 3 said they appreciate the storm water, accessibility and other aims of the plan, many objected to the amount of new concrete in a tiny park that is less than an acre in size.
Monona resident Randy Smith, who lives near the park, said the additional concrete will detract from the park’s primary lure, “which is the green space.”
“On a daily basis I see people setting up a blanket…. kids running up and down that hill in the summer,” Smith said. He said his preference is a “less is more” approach.
Other speakers said they would object to more trash and recycling cans in the park, and would not support adding portable or permanent restrooms.
Some said while they like the idea of adding new bike racks at the park entrance, they are worried about increased bike riding in the park that could sacrifice its tranquility.
Stone Bridge Park is a favorite local site for quiet picnics and sunset observation, some speakers said, and they don’t want to see that lost.
Strand representatives noted in response that concrete is intentionally proposed for the walkway rather than asphalt, to deter skateboarders.
“We understand the pollution work has to be done, or we’re not going to have a lake to sail in,” Lake Monona Sailing Club member Chuck Howding said. He said it’s important, however, that the relocated pier not be moved closer to the piers of neighboring homeowners. Strand representative responded that the needed distance to safely maneuver boats in and out of the lake would be maintained.
Other speakers asked that pathway lighting be kept minimal and said they are concerned about potential scouring of the lake bed by storm water outflow.
Monona Ald. Kristie Goforth called the park a “magical” place “that’s very different,” from other Monona city parks. “It’s very meditative; I love the natural state of it,” Goforth said.
The proposed walkway “seems a little overdone,” Goforth continued, adding that in general “it feels a little bit like we are forcing the landscape to adhere to our desires.”