Family fun around the campfire at Blue Mound State Park.
Four seasons of fun
Blue Mound State Park delivers.
Known for its well-kept cross-country ski trails and year-round access, Blue Mound State Park boasts activities and attractions for many visitors. It is a mere 25 miles west of Madison, in close proximity to a National Natural Landmark in the Cave of the Mounds, and home to the highest point in southern Wisconsin – the 1,716-foot West Blue Mound.
Blue Mound State Park Manager Kevin Swenson provides a behind-the-scenes view of working at such a busy and beautiful state property.
“There are several factors I enjoy about working in an outdoor setting, but experiencing the four seasons is by far the most rewarding,”Swenson says. “(This would apply) whether it is the frigid cold of winter (-15 degrees grooming ski trails two winters ago), to the hot summer sun; from the smell of spring snow melt, to the explosion of fall colors. While this position comes with its fair share of stress, it is these experiences that make me realize I chose a career perfect for me.”
Like other state parks, Blue Mound offers many special programs and events each year, most organized by the Friends of Blue Mound State Park. Interpretive programming runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day each year and includes topics such as large and small mammals, flora and fauna, Universe in the Park and folk music. Candlelight skis (held the first Saturdays in January and February) offer cross-country skiers and snowshoers the opportunity to ski at night by candlelight.
Swenson first started working part time for the Wisconsin State Parks in 1992 as an intern while pursuing his associate then bachelor’s degrees at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He floated between the state parks system and Dane County Parks before being hired full-time by the state in 2001.
“I grew up working on the family dairy farm next door and always enjoyed the outdoor work environment,”Swenson says. “We lived in the country and I spent most of my creative youth with my brother making bike paths, campsites and tree forts in the surrounding woods. It was these years coupled with scouting that gave me a deep appreciation and compassion for our natural environment.”
Swenson shares this compassion for the outdoors with volunteers who he says are essential to Blue Mound State Park’s ongoing popularity.
“Volunteering is a wonderful way to contribute to any state park, whether it is here in Wisconsin or anywhere else in America. Volunteering is a great way to give something back and have a great time outdoors at the same time,” Swenson says. “Here at Blue Mound State Park, we have numerous volunteer activities. Some of the more prominent volunteer activities include being a campground host, park naturalist or visitor center volunteer.”
Swenson says volunteers can spend as much or as little time as they want helping the park.
“If you are not looking for something too time consuming, possibly a conservation project for a group, many of our parks work with groups performing invasive species control (honeysuckle, garlic mustard pull, buckthorn and more), prairie seed collection, trail improvements, litter pickup, mulching, customized service projects, prairie restorations, woodland and wetland restorations and tree planting,”he says. “We also are fortunate to have a wonderful group of individuals that make up the Friends of Blue Mound State Park.”
Many Wisconsin state parks have a friends group, a non-profit organization comprised of individuals, families and community business partners whose mission is to develop, promote and maintain the educational and recreational opportunities within the area, as well as to promote the protection of natural habitat encompassed within the park.
“Members can be as active in the group as their schedules permit,”Swenson says. “A major time commitment isn’t necessary, but members can volunteer as much as they want. Through the years, the Friends of Blue Mound State Park have made significant and generous contributions to the park. Others have provided endowment funds to protect and enhance the future of our parks.”
In January, the Friends of Blue Mound State Park opened a new Friends Shelter at Blue Mound. The shelter was the result of efforts of hundreds of volunteers and donors and the Friends’ fundraising events such as the Horribly Hilly Hundreds Bike Event (arguably the toughest one-day challenge bike ride in the Midwest) and trail runs over the last 10 years. The shelter is heated, air conditioned and fully accessible with bathrooms and drinking water.
The Friends raised about 85 percent of the $500,000 needed for the structure. The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship fund was critical to the project’s success.
For more information visit Blue Mound State Park
Coleen Duvall lives in Milwaukee. She has had plays and short films produced, as well as an e-book. She has written for the Outpost Natural Foods Coop Exchange magazine and the Marquette Journal. She recently had an article on state parks published in the Shepherd Express.