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What Makes Tenney Park So Unique?

On a very cold but sunny afternoon last week,
I let the kids loose on the frozen lagoon with ten colorful orbs of ice.

Tenney Park is unique. I've lived near it for a while now, but it was when I walked the park paths daily to get my daughter to nap that I really got to know its varied landscape. I noticed the different birds, including some zippy yellow ones that sparked my imagination(orioles? tanagers? warblers? who knows?) . I noticed just how many languages can be overheard regularly. And I learned that by crisscrossing the varied paths, I could keep the baby sleeping for long stretches as I found areas of seclusion and other areas often busy with activity.

The history of the park is unique. It started as fourteen acres of marshland bought in 1899 by a local citizen, Daniel Tenney. From the beginning, he intended the land to be a park and promised to give it to the city of Madison when the city was ready to take care of it.

I told them to make a sculpture.
I told them their art would be enjoyed by all the skaters on Tenney Lagoon.
They took the task very seriously, despite the cold and wind.

Mr. Tenney's vision for parks not only generated what is now a rather large park, more than 37 acres along the shoreline of Lake Medota and the Yahara River, it also pushed Madison to be the park-rich city we know today. I'm always proud to remember, Madison has twelve parks and seven playgrounds per 10,000 residents, which is more than other cities. 

This fact was established by park-loving settlers of the capitol city. According to the Madison Parks Foundation history page, "By 1909, Madison had a population of only 25,000, yet a quarter of a million dollars in private funds had been raised just to build public parks, this at a time when a dollar was worth $20 in today's money."

The three kids, ages 2, 4, and 5, pushed and placed the orbs.
At one point, they stopped to play on the groomed ice.
Then they went back and rearranged the orbs.

Mr. Tenney personally underwrote the construction of the first five footbridges in Tenney Park.

After they had finished, and I was taking pictures, I tried what I had watched the kids do: the orbs glide like air hockey pucks into new positions gracefully.

I hope our city's future builds off this history. Recent and upcoming restoration projects are set to keep Tenney vibrant and unique. The Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association's current newsletter includes information about the projects, as well as the devastation expected from the Emerald Ash Borer.

Some meetings to note:  

Date: Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Location: Tenney Park Apartments, 302 N. Baldwin Street

The City of Madison Parks and Engineering Divisions are hosting a public information meeting to discuss two separate projects that are proposed for Tenney Park in 2015.  For each topic, a brief presentation will be given, followed by a question and answer session.

  • Tenney Park Beach Playground Improvements – 6:00 pm.  Follow-up to the Oct. 15th public input meeting.  City Parks will seek input regarding playground design options for Tenney Park Beach Playground.  Contact: Sarah Lerner, 261-4281 or

  • Tenney Lagoon Shoreline Restoration & Tenney Park Bike Path Reconstruction – 7:00 pm.  Discuss proposed project to stabilize and restore all shorelines along Tenney Lagoon and reconstruct the park path that parallels Johnson Street.  Contact: Sally Swenson, 266-4862

The kids are now talking about where they would like the next ephemeral splash of color to land. 

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