Oconomowoc River Conservancy Park and Healing Nature
July 26, 2021 | Topics: Places
By Eddee Daniel, Susan Buchanan and Tall Pines Conservancy
I arrived at around 5:00 pm thinking I would be early for the open house that was scheduled from 4:30 – 7:00. But the grass along the gravel road leading into the park was already lined with cars. Two groups were just getting assembled for guided tours of a nearby labyrinth, a Healing Nature Trail, and other parts of the park. I tagged along, bouncing between the two trying to capture a few photos of the people and the place, which I present for you here. I was especially captivated by the trail through the prairie, which was stunningly beautiful. I can only hope the photos do it justice.
The Open House was well attended. Approximately 90 folks showed up to tour the park’s new trails and features, including the overlook trail to the second highest point in the county, trails through the mature prairie, and the connector trail joining the park to the Monches segment of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. An added bonus enjoyed by many were guided tours of the Healing Nature Trail, hosted by the Healing Nature Center of Three Lakes, WI.
The open house was sponsored by the Town of Merton, Tall Pines Conservancy, Waukesha County Parks and the Oconomowoc Watershed Protection Program. Funding for various features of the park was provided by the Buchanan Foundation and the Kettle Moraine Garden Club. Trails were developed by the Eagle Scouts, Laudato Si, the Healing Nature Center, and the Friends of the Oconomowoc River Conservancy Park. We are currently looking for volunteers to help with monitoring, and mowing of trails in the park. If interested please contact Susan Buchanan, Tall Pines Conservancy: firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Park
The Town of Merton acquired the original 50-acre parcel from the North Lake Sand & Gravel in 1991. Waukesha County Parks and the Town of Merton agreed to exchange approximately twenty acres of the Town’s Conservancy Park for ten acres in Monches, plus another nine acres, resulting in a conservancy park close to thirty acres. The land exchange with Waukesha County Parks was completed in 2003.
Prairie planting began in spring of 2006. Over thirteen acres have been seeded with native prairie flowers and grasses. In 2007, the Town of Merton completed a master plan for the park and received a stewardship grant to begin implementation and development of trails and continued restoration of the native prairie plants. Site development included a gated entrance and signage. The Town was able to:
- Make certain areas of the park accessible to all persons by paving the driveway into the park.
- Complete a gap between Town Park trails and the Ice Age Trail.
- Create linkages to Monches Town and County Park.
- Begin developing passive activities in the park, such as: hiking, cross-country skiing, picnicking, nature study.
- The Town continues to cut the prairie trails and grasses leading to the observation deck.
The Town of Merton and Tall Pines Conservancy (TPC) have collaborated to update and implement the master plan for Oconomowoc River Conservancy Park. The approximately thirty-acre park is designed to offer educational opportunities and encourage enjoyment of nature through passive recreational activities such as walking, hiking, skiing, birding, wildlife observation, and quiet picnicking.
In 2019, TPC completed the installation of the Hunt Eldridge Memorial Observation Deck through generous funding provided by the Buchanan Foundation. In 2020, a Healing Nature Trail and Labyrinth, designed by The Healing Nature Center, was integrated into the park through the support of Kettle Moraine Garden Club. Other partners include Waukesha County, the Oconomowoc Watershed Protection Program, the Ice Age Trail Alliance, the Laudato Si Project, various Eagle Scout Troops and Mid-Kettle Partners.
Waukesha County owns approximately twenty acres of land adjacent to the park and the river. Cropland is gradually being transitioned into pollinator habitat. Tall Pines Conservancy has planted approximately one hundred oak trees on the portion of land closest to the Ice Age Trail bridge over the river.
Healing Nature Trail
In early 2020, TPC began working with the Healing Nature Center from Three Lakes Wisconsin on the concept of a Healing Nature Trail for forest bathing at the park. With the onset of Covid-19, the need for such a trail became very apparent and TPC applied for and received a generous grant from the Kettle Moraine Garden Club to fund the design of the trail. Currently the first phase of the trail has been cut through the established prairie (installed by the Town of Merton thirteen years ago), into the woodland, and out to the Oconomowoc River.
Walking in Nature has been proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of wellbeing. Scientific research shows that inhaling tree-derived compounds—known as phytoncides—reduces concentrations of stress hormones and enhances the activity of white-blood cells known as natural killer cells. Choosing to become present with the subtle sensations found only in nature opens a doorway into another realm. Connecting with nature can shift the perceptions of your everyday world in profound ways. What follows becomes your own journey into peace of mind, tranquility, inspiration, and curiosity. It is a great place to rejuvenate for many who are experiencing anxiety, depression, and any mental or physical health issues.
The entrance to the Healing Nature Trail is marked by a woven and braided wood arch, which begins off the gravel road and brings walkers into the lush prairie. Walking through the arch is the first step to leaving the busyness of daily life behind and giving oneself permission to let go and be immersed in the healing and replenishing energy of nature. The trail is very narrow by design, so as to better immerse walkers in the feel and aroma of nature. As the trail winds through the prairie, the journey takes one through a transition zone from prairie to woodland, and into the wetland leading to the river and back.
Along the way, there is a “Zen Untangle” area that offers users the ability to wander while working through obstacles and “tangles” that help them unravel troubles and to solve problems challenging them.
The Trail was designed to provide a metaphor for the healing journey, offering multiple paths, alcoves for personal reflection, and (eventually) log benches nestled between elder trees overlooking the river. All paths are suitable for barefoot walking which allow users to feel more fully the healing energies of Nature and the Earth. Plate-size finger labyrinths will be eventually be available to take on the trail, which allows one to experience a labyrinth in whatever space calls you. There are no rules. The most important factor is conscious intent to be open to both self and nature.
Choosing to become present with the subtle sensations found only in nature opens a doorway into another realm. Connecting with nature can shift the perceptions of your everyday world in profound ways. What follows becomes your own journey into peace of mind, tranquility, inspiration, and curiosity.
For more information go to the Tall Pines Conservancy website.
Text courtesy Tall Pines Conservancy. Susan Buchanan is executive director of TPC. Eddee Daniel is a board member of Preserve Our Parks. Tall Pines Conservancy is a partner organization of A Wealth of Nature.