JVG_220317_MONTEREY

A bicyclist travels through Monterey Park along the Ice Age Trail in Janesville on Wednesday.

JANESVILLE

Residents of the area near Monterey Park along the Rock River’s big, westward bend in Janesville’s Fourth Ward want to see some trees on the riverfront.

And maybe some pickleball courts. And a fishing dock.

At minimum, some say they want a crushed rock trail paved to make it easier for people with disabilities to view a river area that’s home to migratory pelicans, bald eagles, beavers and dozens of varieties of waterfowl and freshwater game fish.

Those are all ideas that attendees tossed out—some in words, and some with markers on paper—at an open house Wednesday at Janesville City Hall.

Janesville parks director Cullen Slapak, along with Blake Theisen, who operates Madison design consultant Parkitecture, had sought that kind of feedback. It was the point of a forum Wednesday that gave residents the floor on what they’d like to see in the future at the Monterey Park’s wide, grassy promenade.

That’s the central section of the 42-acre park, a section that expands from Wilson Elementary School south to the river in a giant U shape that’s bordered on the riverfront by biking and walking trails and the curving, waterfront run of Riverside Street.

It’s now been two years since the city sunk $1.2 million into shoreline repairs at Monterey Park after the city removed the former Monterey Dam a quarter-mile downstream in 2018. The dam removal has altered the nature of the riverfront, but it’s also ushered in plans by the city to upgrade the park for hiking and biking.

In its draft of the 2021-25 strategic plan, the city had proposed hiring a consultant and design firm to look into Monterey Park repurposing this with plans for park upgrades or changes in 2023.

Slapak said Wednesday upgrades might happen as early as 2023, depending on other city budget considerations and whether the city can land state Department of Natural Resources grants.

But he said Theisen’s firm will use some ideas attendees spoke of and mapped out on tracing paper during the forum Wednesday to flesh out sets of conceptual plans for possible revamps to the park.

Slapak said the city’s parks committee will get a look at Theisen’s emerging concepts later this spring.

Multiple neighbors on Wednesday described the grassy central section at Monterey as being bereft of trees.

“It’s a big, open space by the river. It gets plenty of water,” area resident Matt McDonald said during the forum on Wednesday.

McDonald suggested the park’s central belt could be easily turned into an “arboretum” of trees native to the park’s riverine ecosystem.

It would take years to see the fruits of such work. But McDonald pointed to the huge, aged cottonwood trees that are more than a century old along the riverfront just a few miles upstream at Janesville’s Traxler Park.

Dean Paynter, a local trail coalition volunteer, said he’d like to see some outdoor amenities for children at Wilson School. He said the big central belt at Monterey would be a good spot for a small garden and flower bed that children could maintain.

“It could be educational for elementary school kids,” he said.

Others said they’d like to see more money put into more permanent paved trails of asphalt instead of walking trails of crushed rock.

Others fancied the idea of pickleball courts and a fishing pier that might extend into the river.

The DNR in the past has shown more interest in removing features on the Rock River than adding them.

The Monterey Dam, a spillway that for years had widened the river upstream at Monterey Park, is gone, a plan seen through by the city of Janesville and the DNR.

The dam’s removal has changed the character of Monterey Park’s riverfront.

A controversy at the time, the dam’s removal narrowed the river, made it shallower, and drained a northern lagoon that hugged the park’s south end, reducing it to a catch basin for storm runoff.

The city at first tried to use sludge scooped from the bottom of the lagoon to form a rolling landscape around it, but a contractor at the time told the city that the muck at the bottom of the lagoon is not suited for mound-building.

Now, parts of the lagoon remain a mudflat during dry spells. That’s even though the city has tried to re-establish native grasses there.

Slapak said it can take years to for wetland prairie to thicken up and thrive.

The prairie plantings have been slow to take, leaving the area more mud than grass. That frustrates residents like Harry Paulson, who lives near Monterey Park.

Pauslon said he’d doesn’t like the rows of giant thistles he said dominate the lagoon’s mucky periphery. He said he wants “real trees planted” in the center of Monterey Park. But the lagoon area, he said, should be cleaned up, even if the thistles are part of the city’s initial, native tall grass planting.

“They (the thistles) need to be removed, and the people that authorized that need to be removed,” he said.

Heather Miller, a member of the Janesville City Council, said at minimum, that the city should replace lights it removed a few years back that once illuminated the riverfront paths.

Miller said residents have told her they think the lack of lamps makes the riverfront less safe at night.

“You’re inviting problems when you have darkness,” she said.

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