Save Water Tower sledding hill

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Sam Kaufmann, Opinion Editor

Last month, the village board approved a new subdivision by Veridian Homes adjacent to Water Tower Park and Division Street. A key element of the approval was requiring the extension of Division Street to create a continuous roadway from Easy Street to Woodland Drive. While I support the extension to take traffic pressure off of Madison Street and areas around Prairie Elementary, there are some major implications of such a project for the sledding hill. Extending the road through in a straight line would result in a shrinkage or closure of the hill. In addition, Veridian is planning to expand Water Tower Park further east to include the tree lined area. The addition would include a parking lot, warming house, and outdoor ice skating pond. While it sounds wonderful, a road extension to reach these amenities would split the park into two halves. Children would have to cross a busy roadway with limited visibility to reach the sledding hill. The road needs to be curved in an appropriate manner to allow for the parking lot to be located on the same side of the road as the sledding hill. Is dividing a park in half to put a road in a great idea? I don’t think so, as Capitol Drive will become a north-south through street just to the east of the expanded park. The Verleen Avenue neighbors fought the road extension three different times, most recently in the 1990s, to save the hill. Now, with the way the process has gone and the road goes straight through, the neighbors will have no opportunity to fight it.

Another issue relates to the height and grade of the road. If it is built at a higher slope, less grading would need to be done, but sledders could be sliding into traffic. If it is built at a lower slope, a substantial (and costly) amount of fill would be required and a dangerous situation could occur if drivers slide off the road into the bottom of the hill. In any case, it would be important to incorporate guard rails into the roadway design to keep drivers and sledders from interacting in collisions. Perhaps if fill is used, a tunnel could be placed underneath the roadway to allow sledders to travel safely under the road without having to deal with car traffic. 

Before Water Tower Hill became a park in the late 1960s, it was the site of Waunakee’s town dump. A number of long-time residents have been vocal in discussing what they believe is under the hill, including potentially a small airplane. A number of soil borings will be needed to determine what is under the hill and potential remediation costs. While it’s important to get some answers on whether or not a cleanup is needed, it could eventually generate a lot of additional costs and closure (at least for a few months) of the hill. 

Overall, the road extension is a convoluted project that could potentially result in a loss of part or the whole sledding hill. The village and I both strongly back the extension of the road; however, I refuse to support it unless it is curved well around the existing hill so it can remain intact and have the parking on the same side as the road. The sledding hill is an important and unique amenity that has been in our community for over 50 years. Preserving the hill is critical to provide a safe place where children can sled in the winter time, as well as keeping a longtime public park intact.