New Trail Guide for Yahara Heights County Park

A Scripted Freelance Writer Writing Sample

Grab your hiking shoes and explore Yahara Heights County Park with a new trail guide! The tri-fold brochure and map, which includes interpretive notes and park highlights, was the capstone project of my Wisconsin Master Naturalist certification. I completed both the trail guide and the class in mid-April. The map is arriving just in time for summer recreation season, but seeds for the project were planted in winter, after I relocated from downtown to the north side. As a newcomer to the community, I was eager to explore my marsh-adjacent neighborhood for good birding spots and happened upon Yahara Heights while out on a chilly walk in January. To my delight the park includes an out-and-back hiking trail through prairie, woodland and wetland areas—perfect for some well-rounded nature therapy, and only a mile from my doorstep. Around the same time as this discovery I began a several months-long project to become a certified Wisconsin Master Naturalist. I was already a volunteer with Madison Audubon, but a friend alerted me to this certification which would undoubtedly take my volunteer career to the next level. The course was a welcome way to stay connected to nature during the dark winter months. Our class of 12 students met with instructor Jared McGovern at the UW Platteville campus for four sessions of eights hours each. Classes focused on Wisconsin ecosystems and natural history and included exciting field trips in and around the driftless area and Mississippi River. We touched on citizen science, interpretive techniques, and stewardship practices by trying a little of each. Over the course of the class I needed to complete a final project to become officially certified. When the instructor mentioned we could choose interpretive education such as brochures, my mind leapt immediately to Yahara Heights County Park. Maybe I could create an interpretive guide for my favorite new neighborhood park! A search online and found no mention of a map, and upon reaching out to the Friends of Cherokee Marsh, president Jan Axelson greeted me with cheerful enthusiasm for the project. One sunny March Saturday, Jan Axelson and Jim Hughes took me on a tour of the trail, generously donating their afternoon to pointing out highlights and sharing stories of the park's history. They also outlined the recent prairie restoration efforts led by County Naturalist Wayne Pauly, and introduced me to the woodland section which includes two prehistoric spirit mounds—only recently made visible by thicket removal. After the tour, Jim and Jan sent me related maps including hand drawn diagrams and coordinates for the mounds. With a few more visits on my own, walking the trail using GPS, and learning how to examine the park's features with Google Earth, I began to sketch the map and compile a list of highlights. The brochure was designed to include a trail map; locations for the dog park, parking and canoe launch; diagrams and locations of the mounds; and a few nature notes for good measure. A few revisions later, with more help from Jan and Jim, I sent a copy to the Parks department who responded with their blessing and some high-resolution image files to give the brochure a more professional look. The final product, which will be updated as the park expands and changes over time, is available for download at cherokeemarsh.org/visit Information about the Wisconsin Master Naturalist program can be found at wimasternaturalist.org

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Erika Z

Madison, Wisconsin, United States •

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