Amanda Depagter and Bill Quackenbush at McCarthy park.
Amanda Depagter and Bill Quackenbush at McCarthy park.

Inspired by the prairie-lined boundaries of a Dane County park, a UW student had the vision to create an interactive trail focusing on the local history of the Ho-Chunk Nation.

Amanda Depagter, a senior majoring in landscape architecture, developed the idea for the interpretive trail and brought it to the attention of the Dane County Parks Division.

“This will add a little twist on your typical park planning,” Depagter said. “It is intended to be a resource for the community that encompasses everything about the Ho-Chunk tribes.”

McCarthy Park Youth and Conservation Park contains 220 acres of land. The park, located in Cottage Grove, currently has areas for horseback riding, hiking and group camping areas, according to the Dane County Parks website. The interpretive Ho-Chunk trails will be incorporated into these existing trails.

The park will incorporate a self-guided tour. The tour consists of signs throughout the park that have a specific phone number listed. When the number is called, the listener is provided with an oral story specific to that location. The Ho-Chunk people pass down their traditions and history orally, so incorporating this idea within McCarthy Park is a culturally accurate way to provide information to visitors.

Traditional recreations of Ho-Chunk seasonal villages are being planned for the park, such as the large domed buildings called “wigwams.” The Ho-Chunk’s close relationship with the land will be modeled both through the incorporation of these villages and information provided about the native plants they frequently used, said Christopher James, park planner for the Dane County Parks Division.

“In Dane County, there is a need for something more because there is an incredible amount of history here,” James said.

McCarthy Park is intended to be used by the public and the Ho-Chunk nation, instead of just being set up as an exhibit. The interactive elements are designed to encourage a better appreciation for the native customs of the land.

Bill Quackenbush, a tribal heritage preservationist with the Ho-Chunk tribe, has played a large role in the park’s development so far, Depagter said. Quackenbush’s knowledge about the land and its connection with the Ho-Chunk people has been instrumental to the interactive trails’ completion, James said.

“What we’re hoping it’s going to be for the Ho-Chunk nation is a place where they can bring their youth for many years to come to learn about the past lifestyle,” James said.

The park is home to the annual McCarthy Park Snow Day, which consists of various activities and games designed for public participation. This year’s snow day took place in early February and included the first introduction of Ho-Chunk history to McCarthy park. A ciporoke, a lodge specific to the Ho-Chunk tribe, was built for guests to experience during the snow day, Depagter said.

To tie in Ho-Chunk history with modern viewers, McCarthy park will take the interpretive trail a step further than other cultural exhibits in the area by including an interpretation of what it is like to be a Ho-Chunk person in today’s society, James said.

“We’re pretty excited about it,”  James said. “It’s a great opportunity for our park system, and is something that is long overdue.”

This story was originally published on The Badger Herald’s website here