The names behind local, lakeside parks

Photo courtesy Dane County Land & Water Resources Department
Lake Wingra and Henry Vilas Park
Lake Wingra and Henry Vilas Park

Henry Vilas Park (Lake Wingra)

Henry Vilas Park is one of Madison’s oldest lakeside parks, and provides a gathering place along Lake Wingra for swimming, fishing, and even ice skating when the lagoon freezes over. The park was created from a 1904 donation from Wisconsin’s U.S. Senator, William Freeman Vilas (1840-1908), to the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association, an organization committed to the development of parks and scenic drives in the Madison area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Vilas also served as U.S. Postmaster General and Secretary of the Department of the Interior under President Grover Cleveland. Henry Vilas Park is named in memory of William’s son who died in childhood.

Boy plays at Governor Nelson State Park Beach, summer 2022
Boy plays at Governor Nelson State Park Beach, summer 2022

Governor Nelson State Park (Lake Mendota)

Governor Nelson State Park offers nature and recreation on the shore of Lake Mendota, within sight of the iconic Wisconsin State Capitol. The lakeside park is named for Wisconsin Governor, Senator, and environmental activist Gaylord Nelson (1916-2005). Nelson was the founder of Earth Day, and helped launch a new wave of environmentalism that raised awareness and demanded action about environmental problems of the 1960s and 70s.

Photo courtesy Dane County Land & Water Resources Department
Historic photo of Fish Camp County Park on Lake Kegonsa Photo courtesy Dane County Land & Water Resources Department

Fish Camp County Park (Lake Kegonsa)

Fish Camp County Park lies on the northern shore of Lake Kegonsa, and has a rich economic and environmental history behind its name. It was one of many carp removal facilities established in the 1930s after the rapid reproduction and spread of carp in Wisconsin’s waters began to impact fishing and recreation. Carp were harvested and shipped to stock ponds in other states, or sent to Chicago and New York to be sold at fresh fish markets. Carp are still considered an invasive species to this day. Work is ongoing to manage populations and reduce their harmful effects on aquatic ecosystems.

View of the Wisconsin State Capitol Building from Paunack (A.O.) Park
View of the Wisconsin State Capitol Building from Paunack (A.O.) Park. Paunack (A.O.) Park is one of Greater Madison’s many lakeside parks.

Paunack (A.O.) Park (Lake Monona)

Located along the Lake Monona Lake Loop, Paunack (A.O.) Park is the perfect place to take a break from biking and enjoy the peaceful view. The lakeside park’s namesake, A.O. “Augie” Paunack (1879-1954), was a Madison businessman who founded the Commercial State Bank of Madison and the radio station, WIBA. The land that Paunack (A.O.) Park sits on was donated by Augie’s son, R.R. Paunack, in memory of his father.

Hudson Park provides seating with a view along Lake Monona
View of Lake Monona from Hudson Park

Hudson Park (Lake Monona)

Hudson Park is nestled along the shores of Lake Monona on the east side of Madison. It’s located just a few blocks from the home of its benefactor and namesake, Belle Hudson Mahan (1856-1939). Hudson was a lifelong Madison resident. She played a large role in the development of the east side into a vibrant neighborhood with many economic opportunities for those who settled in the area. Hudson Park is also home to a memorial sculpture and burial mounds created by members of the Ho-Chunk Nation, who have lived on this land for thousands of years.

Babcock County Park's boat launch
Babcock County Park’s boat launch
Photo courtesy Dane County Land & Water Resources Department

Babcock County Park (Lake Waubesa)

Lake Waubesa’s Babcock County Park is a popular boat launch, campground, and recreational area located at the outflow of the Yahara River. Babcock County Park is named after Wisconsin dairy scientist and professor of agricultural chemistry Stephen Babcock (1843-1931). He created the Babcock test, a method of determining the fat content in milk, as well as the cold-curing process for ripening cheese, which allowed Wisconsin to become the leading cheese producer in the United States.

This lakeside parks article originally was printed in the 2023 Greater Madison Lake Guide. Read more from the publication.

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