City between the Lakes
Capital of the U.S. state of Wisconsin, Madison is a vibrant city of 230,000 built on an isthmus between two lakes of the Yahara River: Lake Monona and Lake Mendota. The heart of the city is surrounded by natural beauty and crowned by the Wisconsin State Capitol dome, an architectural jewel modeled after the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. The Wisconsin Capitol forms the epicenter of the city and is visible throughout the Madison area because of its position on the highest point of the isthmus. Radiating out from Capitol Square is a lively and pedestrian-friendly downtown with a variety of shops, restaurants, cafes, pubs and museums that lend the city a festive atmosphere of music, arts and entertainment. State Street, a mile-long pedestrian mall, connects Capitol Square with the University of Wisconsin and adds to the overall sense of vitality and movement at the urban core, as well as the culture of education and learning present throughout the city. Madison has one of the most extensive bike trail systems in the U.S., and cycling is an important pastime for residents and visitors alike, along with other forms of outdoor recreation. On Saturdays during the summer months, the nation’s largest farmers market is held around Capitol Square, with countless vendors offering local produce, meats and cheeses among other products
Cradle of a “Land Ethic”
The unique spirit of Madison has nurtured several pioneering figures in the movement to conserve and protect the environment. Notable among these is ecologist Aldo Leopold, who spent the latter part of his career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a professor of Game Management in the Agricultural Economics Department. It was during this period that Leopold articulated many of his most influential and enduring philosophies about the human relationship with nature, including those published in the seminal work A Sand County Almanac. In 1935, he and his family purchased a rundown farm in Baraboo, Wisconsin just north of Madison and spent more than a decade working to restore the forest and prairies around the now-famous ‘Leopold Shack’.
In addition to Leopold, Madison played an important role in the life of naturalist and wilderness advocate John Muir. Born in Scotland, Muir came with his family to Madison at a young age in 1849 and eventually attended the University of Wisconsin. Although he never graduated, Muir credited his first botany lessons at the university with sowing in him a love for nature and starting him on the path that would eventually lead to, among other things, the founding of the Sierra Club and the protection of vast tracts of wilderness in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.
Lastly, the city of Madison is associated with the late Gaylord Nelson, a former U.S. Senator and Governor of Wisconsin who founded Earth Day on April 22, 1970. Intended to inspire awareness of and appreciation for the Earth’s natural environment, the first Earth Day was celebrated throughout the U.S. in a largely grassroots effort. The celebration has since grown to include more than 175 countries around the world.
“Birthplace of Ecological Restoration”
In 1936 at the height of the Great Depression, a young botanist named Theodore Sperry was hired by Aldo Leopold and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to lead a crew of workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps in a project aimed at bringing back the tallgrass prairie on 60 acres of eroded farmland near the university campus. Under the technical direction of Leopold and G. William Longenecker, Sperry and his crew experimented with different techniques for reestablishing prairie species on the site, comparing the effectiveness of seeds, seedlings and blocks of sod. Curtis Prairie would become the world’s first ecologically-restored prairie and the centerpiece of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum, which was founded at the site during the initial phases of the project. Moreover, the work undertaken at Curtis Prairie, and the visionary ideas underlying it, would give rise to the modern discipline of ecological restoration. The research data collected over more than 75 years of ongoing restoration efforts at Curtis Prairie continues to provide a wealth of important insights into the dynamics of tallgrass prairie ecosystems and the most effective methods for managing and restoring them.