As the angry mob stormed the White House Wednesday evening, a Waunakee governmental committee was engaged its own work. The Waunakee Parks and Recreation Committee listened to a staff proposal for preliminary engineering to determine whether a trail connection from the Castle Creek Conservancy to Mill Road was worth pursuing.

I had texted a friend a photo of a Christmas cactus in bloom she’d given to my husband and me prior to covering this meeting via Zoom. When I saw her response afterwards, it read something like, “What a beautiful spot of color in this otherwise dark day. I am holding my head.”

In my response, I asked if she suffered from migraines, but no, the U.S. Capitol melee caused her extreme grief.

For me, the park and rec meeting was a welcome distraction. I’ve walked that pedestrian trail through the conservancy countless times, and always wished it were longer, and in the past few years, have walked around the Village Center Pond then headed to the conservancy to get more steps in.

And so I tuned into that meeting. It was the culmination of more than a year of discussions with one landowner to see if a land swap would be likely for the trail extension. Kevin Even, village engineer, had reached out to Department of Transportation and Department of Natural Resources staff to learn about the project. Former Julee Helt helped with the research prior to her retirement last year, and Westport’s Administrator and Waunakee’s Community Services Director Sue McDade also participated.

The project would provide a pedestrian connection, with no vehicular traffic, to the North Mendota Trail system, and possibly a bicycle connection, depending on the results of the preliminary engineering. As one committee member commented, it would connect several neighborhoods in the Waunakee-Westport community, as well.

But the project is complicated, with railroad and utility easements, wetlands and a creek on the property, along with negotiations with landowners to obtain more easements. And so this study is needed to learn more about the costs to taxpayers and whether it can be done at all. The $38,000 proposal will go to the village board for its consideration Jan. 19.

Days following that meeting, I began to reflect on the value of local government, where quietly, staffers identify public projects for committee members and elected officials to then consider. This is done at the federal level, as well, but pleasing constituents and lobbyists and remaining in office seem to be less of a concern at the local level. Power is less of an objective than improving the community for local leaders.

And community engagement – forming committees with citizen members to first weigh such initiatives, hosting meetings on Zoom with clear sound and uploading them to YouTube for the community to watch later – is also greater at the local level.

With contested races for village trustee and the president’s seats, engagement in Waunakee’s local government has remained strong during this COVID-19 pandemic. The spring elections should be interesting, but my guess is, the results will be accepted, no coups will be attempted, and the important work of this community’s local government will continue.

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