Edgerton teacher's vision reflected in new park

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Anna Marie Lux
Wednesday, October 16, 2013

TOWN OF ALBION--Irene Silverwood would be pleased to know that people are thinking big when it comes to the future of her family farm northeast of Edgerton.

The woman taught business education at Edgerton High School for more than 40 years before retiring in 1984. As Irene aged, she worried about her Dane County land being divided for development.

When she died in 2002, Irene donated almost 300 acres in the town of Albion to Dane County. She requested that the county create a park emphasizing agricultural education and recreation.

In addition to green space and hiking trails, Irene wanted the park to be a place to learn about growing food, to celebrate Wisconsin's farming heritage and to build community.

For 10 years after her death, neighboring farmers who leased the land were allowed to continue farming on it. Now, an energetic group is working to fulfill Irene's vision. But they don't want to do it alone.

The Friends of Silverwood County Park welcome the public's ideas as they put together a master plan for the property on Highway 106 and Silver Lane.

“The park is still in its infancy, but our plans are big,” said Katie Vance-Whitten, president of the group. “If you don't dream large, you won't succeed at a higher level.”

She invites the public to a reception at Coachman's Golf Resort on Sunday, Oct. 27. Members of the friends group will provide information about the fledgling park and how it wants to connect with area schools to provide hands-on learning about agriculture.

Included in the master plan so far are construction of an agricultural-education center with classrooms; a hiking trail around the perimeter; a bike path that connects with the city of Edgerton; and kayaking, canoeing and fishing on neighboring Rice Lake.

The Silverwood's niece Donna Skau is treasurer of the friends group and used to spend time on the farm as a child.

“Irene was big in education,” Skau said. “She always wanted us to get our schoolwork done. She also set up an educational fund for her grand nieces and grand nephews.”

An ivy-covered farmhouse, cribs for holding ear corn and several buildings huddle in the quiet farmyard, surrounded by 60 wooded acres and 240 acres of rolling cornfields.

Educators in the Edgerton School District are excited about the park's potential as a learning center.

“We want Silverwood to be an extension of the classroom,” said Tracy Deavers, director of teaching and learning with the district.

One of her high hopes is that students will use the park to grow food to supplement the school breakfast and lunch programs, maybe as early as fall of 2014.

This year, Edgerton elementary students planted pumpkin seeds in the spring. Later, FFA students transplanted the seedlings to gardens at Silverwood park. Last week, elementary students, who planted the pumpkin seeds in spring, harvested them.

“We want our elementary students to see the process from beginning to end,” Deavers said.

In the future, she hopes students at all levels will get involved in planting, nurturing and harvesting crops.

She called the learning possibilities at the park endless.

Edgerton Middle School principal Phill Klamm also is excited about the park's potential, both as an educator and as a father with children in the district.

“I am not a farmer, but I respect farmers so much that I'm fired up about the possibilities. The farm stands for Wisconsin family life. A lot of our heritage comes from agriculture.”

Rick Reese, Edgerton agricultural education teacher and FFA advisor, is excited about matching students with projects at the park.

“To me, this is all about opportunities,” he said. “Most of our kids are several generations from the farm. They don't have a connection to farming. All kids need a better understanding of where our food comes from.”

In addition to pumpkins, students grew other vegetables this past summer. Some were donated to the food pantry at Edgerton Community Outreach.

“Our goal this year was to get the kids talking about the park,” Reese said. “We want to generate interest in and make people aware of the park. We also want to get people out there to see what a fantastic resource it is.”

Next year, plans include setting aside eight acres for agricultural use by students, groups and the public, Josh Bartz, secretary of the friends group said.

“There also are early plans for some classes to be held on the property,” he added. “The hope is that the park can offer space to many types of educational programs and recreational activities.”

Bartz called Irene and her husband, Russell, wonderful stewards of the land, which was in the Silverwood family since 1848. Russell, who died in 1988, served on the Dane County Board and Albion Town Board for many years. Irene and Russell did not have children, but Irene gave her students plenty of motherly attention and wanted the best for them.

“Irene educated so many people at Edgerton High School,” Bartz said. “Now, she has passed away, but her vision gets to live on.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at (608) 755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.

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