Looking for "A Better Way"

I often take a walk for exercise around Sunset Village with my friend Liz McBride. We would go down South Owen Drive, past the pipe where it emerged from under the street to flow west. There we’d pause for a few moments, looking at the wildflowers in a bit of natural woodland next to the stream. The stream itself often had a trickle, burbling around some large boulders in its path. Listening to that sound was like taking the pulse of the neighborhood—the natural pulse—and I was amazed that it was still beating so strongly.

But then, about two years ago, heavy equipment showed up. Within a few weeks, the stream was gone—and in its place, an ugly scar of dirt humped over a big pipe. Exploring, we found the pipe ended in metal bars, designed to keep children out of the stream. Where once neighborhood kids like Kevin Grogg had explored and played, now we found just this ugly grid. When Liz spoke with someone at City Engineering, he talked as if this were the greatest thing since sliced bread. If he had his way, he implied, all Madison’s streams would be buried.

Now the scar has healed and, with grass growing where the stream once flowed, it looks pretty good. But the good looks are really thanks to the large trees that were spared—the stream and woodland flowers are gone.

Next, there was talk of burying a creek where it runs through woods in Westmorland Park. People said it was “to control erosion and prevent sediment from reaching Lake Wingra.” This sounded like a good reason, so I sat back and let others deal with it.

But then heavy equipment showed up last year, and they cut the heart from the woods, stacking up the logs. Tons of gravel were dumped to create a road for the equipment. It didn’t seem to make sense—destroying nature to save nature.

Now wildflowers have been planted over the pipe, but they’re kind of weedy-looking because they’re growing over the gravel road. There’s this unnatural slice through the woods. Another stream gone.

Early this spring, the equipment showed up between the Glenway Golf Course and the SW bike trail. Again, to control erosion into Lake Wingra. And when they were gone, we had—GodzillaGulch. And, the road to the Gulch. The argument—silt is building up here, and we have to get trucks in to remove the sediment from time to time. But this “improvement” is beyond ugly. There has to be a better way.

So when signs saying “save the greenway” showed up on Upland Drive near Liz’s house a few weeks ago, I decided to get involved. Engineering wants to bury the last bit of Sunset Village Creek, and upgrade the sewage lines. Before the heavy equipment shows up again, I’m going to help look for that “better way.” This blog is about what I’m finding out.

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