More people than ever are out hiking and exploring Dane County Parks since the COVID-19 pandemic limited indoor recreational opportunities, but many may not know how those parks came to be.
One Waunakee High School student is about to find out.
Sam Kaufmann, who will be a senior this year, is part of the county board’s Youth Governance Program. Throughout his term, he will work with Dane County Supervisor Dave Ripp, who represents the rural areas of Waunakee and serves on the park commission. Kaufmann will attend the commission meetings and even have a vote, though it won’t be part of the quorum. He’ll learn Robert’s Rules of Order which are observed at government meetings, more about open meetings law, attend meetings and participate in conferences and training forums.
In an interview with Ripp and Kaufmann at Schumacher Farm County Park, Ripp told the Tribune the Youth Governance Program began in 2012 and allows high school students to serve on the standing committees and offer different viewpoints.
Kaufmann will attend several closed-meeting sessions as part of the parks commission, Ripp said, when committee members discuss possible land purchases and negotiations.
The committee then authorizes staff to negotiate the purchases, Ripp said, adding the experience also teaches them to work with staff. The committee is also revising park ordinances, and meets twice monthly, once virtually and once in person at a county park during the warm weather months.
“Our last meeting was at Pheasant Branch,” Ripp said, referring to the Middleton conservancy. “The Friends group and the city of Middleton came and talked.”
The next in-person meeting is scheduled for Babcock County Park in McFarland.
One ordinance up for review is allowing leaded shot at the wildlife areas where hunting is permitted. Ripp said he would like to look into requiring non-leaded shot, but more research on its availability is needed first.
Kaufmann said he had applied for the Youth Governance Program in the past but applied again now that he has more time.
“I wanted to try something a little different. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff in the same area,” Kaufmann said. Last year, he served on Waunakee’s Housing Task Force, but that panel’s work has been completed.
Also, his mother, Julie Kaufmann, works for the City of Madison.
“I hope to learn a little more of the process, being part of the decision making rather than watching,” Kaufmann said.
Kaufmann recently has helped with an effort to clear logjams out of Six Mile Creek and said he’s always like parks.
Ripp said in his experience mentoring youths in the program, he’s noticed changes in the participants throughout the year.
“What I’ve seen is, they come in quiet and don’t ask questions. By the end of the year, they’re asking questions,” he said.
The county’s parks and recreation committee is looking at about four or five different purchases, but Ripp said he does not know if they will be finalized. Some offers to purchase are turned down because the price is too high. The 2020 budget was set up last November and hasn’t changed, Ripp said. As for next year’s budget, department heads have been asked not to add anything, and a hiring freeze is in place, Ripp added.
“The general fund will take a hit; the reserve will probably be history,” he said.
Yet now, more people are coming out to parks than ever. Unfortunately, the bathrooms are closed because the county does not have the staff to sanitize them often, Ripp said.
When asked if Kaufmann will pursue government in college or as a career, he said he also likes meteorology and does storm chasing. But his family has worked in government. His mother works in document services with the City of Madison and his grandfather was the City of Middleton attorney for many years, so it’s in the blood, so to speak.
“Possibly,” he said. “I’ll leave my options open.”