By next spring, McCarthy Youth and Conservation County Park should have a new shelter, paved roads, a drinking fountain and more.
The Dane County Board approved in a May 5 meeting a nearly $600,000 contract for improvements to the roughly 290-acre park at 4841 County Highway TT in Cottage Grove.
Construction will likely begin in June and continue through spring 2023, according to Chris James, senior landscape architect for the Dane County parks department. A pre-construction meeting between Dane County, the project consultant, Portage-based General Engineering Company and McKee Associates, Inc., a Madison-based general contractor, is scheduled for May 31.
The additions were first envisioned in the park’s 2015 master plan, but the county prioritizes projects that improve health or safety concerns, James said, and McCarthy Park doesn’t have such issues.
“We’re trying to come back to the park now,” James said. “It gets a lot of use, and it’s gotten even more since the pandemic started.”
In recent years, more than 10,000 people have visited McCarthy park annually, Alex DeSmidt, park facility planner with the parks department, said in an email. DeSmidt added that the estimate was several years old and likely “severely underestimating” the actual number of visitors, as the park has become more popular in recent years.
Right now, a long gravel driveway leads into the park to a single large, unpaved parking lot. The park currently houses recreational trails, campsites, vault restrooms and a picnic area.
County upgrades will add a paved driveway from County Highway TT, a gravel turnaround circle, and paved parking lot with 31 stalls, including two accessible stalls and two electric vehicle charging stations.
James said construction will begin with paving the roads and parking lot, then move on to what he said was the “biggest new thing:” a 40-foot by 60-foot timber frame shelter. The shelter will be located next to the parking lot and will feature a fire pit, renderings from county plans show.
If all goes as planned, James said, construction on the shelter will go into the fall, and work on the upgrades will finish up in the spring with a new playground.
The county is also installing a well to serve as a drinking fountain.
“Getting water to the park was one of the biggest things we heard from the public,” James said.
The renderings show additional structural improvements like paved sidewalks beside the parking lot, a retaining wall and stormwater control. A bio-filtration device will filter out run-off from cars in the parking lot, James said, which, along with the electric car charging stations, is part of the county’s effort to be more environmentally friendly.
Future visions for the park include a new picnic area, pedestrian connector paths on County Highway TT and a yurt at the equestrian campground, which James said would serve as a warming house during the winter.
The county budgeted $800,000 in 2022 for improvements to the park. James said the approved $600,000 didn’t include the playground, which will require a separate contract, or other future updates.
The park currently offers group camping and hiking and equestrian trails, as well as sledding, snowshoeing and cross country skiing in the winter. Winter activities draw increased traffic to the park, James said.
The park also offers opportunities for visitors to learn about the Ho-Chunk people, on whose ancestral lands many Dane County parks now sit. Four educational nodes dot the trails, and the park features a traditional Ho-Chunk structure called a ciporoke. The Ho-Chunk Nation also hosts events at the park throughout the year.
Each year the Friends of McCarthy Youth & Conservation County Park hosts a youth volunteer day to help tidy the park each spring, that draws Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, 4-H and other youth groups.
“It’s a sense of community and taking care of our environment,” Karen Bailey, president of the Friends group, said of the service day.
In 1974, Russell and Ella McCarthy of Cottage Grove donated to Dane County 180 acres of what would eventually become McCarthy Park.
“Their goal was that the country kids and the city kids could meet in the park and learn from each other,” Bailey said.
James said the park will be open during most of the construction. Any closures will be posted on the Dane County Parks website in advance.