In 2017, the Friends of Cherokee Marsh will celebrate our tenth anniversary as a nonprofit group. From its beginnings as a loose group of advocates responding to a development proposal, the Friends has grown to an organization with 200 members.
The event that sparked the group’s formation was a public meeting in 2006 where City of Madison staff introduced a proposed plan for Cherokee Park, Inc., to develop 260 acres in six parcels adjacent to Cherokee Marsh. Following the meeting, Northsiders Ellen Barnard and Pat Woicek began a conversation about the best way for the public to respond to the plan to protect the marsh as much as possible.
Concerns about the development plan included keeping polluted urban storm water out of the wetlands, providing protected buffer land between the wetlands and developed areas, and maintaining expanses of habitat for wildlife.
Ellen approached Northside Planning Council (NPC) Director Jim Powell for advice on advocating for the marsh. Jim suggested forming a group and giving it a name, so Ellen, Pat, and other supporters began using the name Friends of Cherokee Marsh, though formal organization came later.
NPC arranged for representatives of the group to present the issues to Mayor Dave Cieslewicz at one of NPC’s quarterly meetings. Ellen recalls that “it really was the NPC’s support and encouragement that gave us the starting oomph.”
In gatherings at Muriel Simms’ house, the group coordinated sending people to speak at public meetings. The Northside News provided detailed coverage of the plan and the public’s response to it.
In public meetings at Sherman Avenue United Methodist Church, the Wisconsin River Alliance helped the group organize more formally.
The final plan, approved by the Common Council in 2007, included much of what the Friends had advocated for. At the same time, the city reached an agreement with CPI to buy over 200 acres of wetlands and 20 acres of upland adjacent to Cherokee Marsh Conservation Park. The city has since added this land (and more) to the park, restoring the wetlands and planting the upland to prairie.
Ten years later, we continue to advocate for land and water protection. Our volunteers work to restore prairie and wetlands in Cherokee Marsh Conservation Park, Yahara Heights County Park, and the Cherokee Marsh State Natural Area. We raise money to support outdoor environmental education through the Madison School District. We established the Cherokee Marsh Conservation Fund to provide a permanent source of funding for conservation of the marsh. And we sponsor events for the public including monthly bird and nature walks.
We thank all of our members and supporters over the years, and we hope you will join us as we look forward to continuing our activities to protect, preserve, restore, and enjoy Cherokee Marsh, our wetland gem.
A version of this article appeared in the Northside News.