Sunflower Days at Pope Farm Park in Middleton, Wisconsin
Aug 05, 2014 10:51PM
By Diane Schwartz
Pope Farm Park is a great location for family outings.
So grab the kids, grandma and grandpa and head out to Pope Farm Park in the town of Middleton, Wisconsin for Sunflower Days, now until August 10, 2014. The park is open from sunrise to sunset, but during Sunflower Days, park volunteers will be on hand to answer questions from 2–8 p.m. on weekends and 4–8 p.m. during the week.
Mel Pope, chair of the Friends of Pope Farm Park, says that the sunflowers bloom for about 5-6 days around the first week of August. Because this year's crop was planted on rolling ground, the sunflowers on the top of the swales are blooming and those below are just starting to open. "We expect peak bloom this weekend if the weather holds,” he said. Pope recommends checking the web site at www.popefarmconservancy.org for the latest news.
This park is well designed for visitors of all ages. There are two parking lots. The upper lot is for families with small children, older folks with mobility issues, and for those who just want to enjoy the overlook and picnic area. The lower lot is for trail users and everyone else who can make the short, but steep walk up the hill. There are picnic tables and fresh water available, but leave the dog at home. Dogs are not allowed. Don’t forget your camera.
The walk around the sunflower field takes about 20 minutes, but you’ll want to stay longer. While the sunflowers draw people to the park, there is so much more to see at this educational conservancy.
Each year, over 1000, 4th graders visit the park to study the plants, geology and the people of the park. There are 7-8 miles of trails that take you past 7 different crops, 6 different kinds of prairie, magnificent views, and tons of human history. There are 40 high quality interpretative exhibits to help you appreciate the place. All were done with expert assistance from UW-Madison professors and State of Wisconsin historians and geologists. Look up the exhibits online to help get your kids excited.
Here are a few highlights and tips on how to share the park with your kids.
Top of the World
The park sits on glacial moraine and offers stunning views of Lake Mendota and the State Capitol. It's no wonder that people have been coming to this spot for 12,000 years. Invite your kids to imagine the glaciers in the distance rising up from the land close to a mile thick. If you look hard enough, you can almost see a Wooly Mammoth grazing in the shadow of the glacier and an ancient hunter moving in for the kill.
How Your Ancestors Lived
The Joachim and Sophie Goth cabin site is preserved at the park. You can still see the pits in the ground where the cabin stood and there’s an exhibit that shows what the cabin looked like, complete with outhouse. Turns out the outhouse was really close by. Guess they didn't like a long trip in the winter. Since many of us are German or come from immigrant stock, you can tell your kids, “That's how Great, Great Grandma and Grandpa lived when they first got here.” Who knows, they may appreciate their cosy bed a bit more that night.
Where did those stones come from?
In the 1840s and 1850s, early farmers pulled these stones from fields to prepare for planting and created this huge fence. Most of the stones are original, but some have been added in recent years. Ask your kids, “Where did the boulders come from?” This is a great place to talk about the power of the glaciers and how the ice dragged the stones from Canada and deposited them here when the glaciers stopped about 12,000 years ago.
A Diversity of Crops and Prairie
Everyone knows what corn looks like, but what about the oats you eat every morning in your bowl of Cherrios or oatmeal? You can see a field of oats along with wheat, soybeans, timothy, alfalfa and corn. Pope said that because it’s an educational conservancy, we want variety. “We have 6 different prairies and one more is in the works. We want variety so the kids can learn. When you rotate the crops you get a different tapestry each year,” he said. This is true. Last year, the sunflowers were at the top of the hill. This year, they're in the valley. The effect is dramatically different.
During the Great Depression, the federal government put people back to work through the Civilian Conservation Corps or the CCC. In 1938, the CCC built a concrete structure called a spillway to keep the steep land from eroding. The remains of the spillway have been designated a state archeological site. It’s a great place to talk about the Great Depression and the importance of soil conservation.
There is more to see and do here, but the main thing during Sunflower Days is to take lots of photos of your kids and to smile a lot. Or, come back in September for Heritage Days and take a wagon ride. If you’re really inspired, donate some money to this all volunteer operation.
Heritage Days Sept 13, 2014, 1-4 p.m. Free with $2 horse wagon rides Walk the history of the land. Live speakers with interpret the land at different parts of the park. Topics include Geology, Vegetation, Native Peoples, German Immigration Site, and the Civilian Conservation Corp/Dustbowl and the Great Depression. Horse-drawn wagons will take you around the park.
Directions 7440 West Old Sauk Road, Middleton, WI 53593 The main entrance is 2 miles west of the Beltline (Hwy 12/18) on Old Sauk Road.