After a paddle, an emergency whistle and a personal flotation device, Yahara Waterways may be the next most essential accessory you stow aboard your ship when launching on local lakes. The 44-page water-trail guide to Dane County waters makes its formal debut this week, in conjunction with the 13th annual Take a Stake in the Lakes celebration.
The new guide is so buoyant with historical, environmental and cartographic information that it will all but float your boat.
The trail is illustrated in a lake-by-lake series of maps by Jeff Strobel of UW-Extension Environmental Services. From Cherokee Lake and Marsh in the north, the trail continues south around the perimeters of lakes Mendota, Monona, Wingra, Waubesa and Kegonsa, as well as Upper and Lower Mud lakes.
Each map is keyed to corresponding pages of features explaining the watershed's environmental and human history: beaches, bluffs, vintage and restored boathouses, railroad bridges, even a castle. Amenities such as marinas, public phones, restrooms and accessible fishing piers are also noted.
Inspired by Taychopera, Jane Licht's 1984 canoe guide to Dane County lakes, Yahara Waterways is the product of a public-private collaboration involving the Dane County Environmental Council, the Dane County Lakes and Watershed Commission and groups such as Capitol Water Trails, the Wisconsin River Alliance and the Mad City Paddlers.
Licht would become better known as Dane County's longtime register of deeds, a post from which she recently retired. But back in the late 1970s, paddling a classic aluminum Grumman canoe, she and her husband sketched out a route they called the Taychopera Trail and used it as the framework for a five-day natural-history exploration of the Yahara lakes for McFarland youths.
"We got special permission to camp along the way," remembers Licht, noting that Taychopera is a Ho-Chunk word meaning Four Lakes. "The kids were really excited."
That route became the basis for her guide. But it had been out of print for well over a decade by the time Mindy Habecker got wind of it. A specialist in water-quality and natural-resources education at Dane County UW-Extension, Habecker serves as staff for the Dane County Environmental Council, which published Licht's Taychopera and holds the copyright on the new Yahara Waterways.
"Over a number of years I would hear about Taychopera and shouldn't it be enlarged and shouldn't it be updated," says Habecker. "In 2004, I called together my first meeting of stakeholders who I thought might be interested." More than two dozen people attended.
Habecker took the lead as project coordinator, but the final product represents the extensive commitments of more than 20 principal contributors who devoted countless hours to framing, researching, fact-checking and field-testing the new guide. (The team's efforts will be recognized during Dane County Waters Champion awards ceremonies scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 7, at the Madison Club, to launch Take a Stake Week.)
Looking to models such as the Lake Superior Water Trail for guidance, the Yahara Waterways team outlined the geographic, historical and environmental features it sought to include in both the trail and its guide. The team envisioned a printed guide and a Web-based resource that could be expanded over time - complementary mechanisms for getting more stakeholders out onto local waters and inducing a broader sense of stewardship.
"We had a lot of conversations about that," says Yahara Waterways steering committee member Nancy Saulsbury, director of outdoor programs for the local paddlesport retailer Rutabaga, "and decided to focus on anyone who wanted to understand the lakes from the perspective of being on the water."
Habecker agrees: "We see the primary audience as not only paddlers but really people in any boats. Anglers, people in sailboats, pontoon boats. I'm an ice angler," she elaborates, "and I go cross-country skiing out on the lakes too." Snowshoeing enthusiasts and iceboaters could also swell the year-round audience for the guide, as could naturalists, environmental educators, green tourists and kids enrolled in youth programs. If so, the first print run of 10,000 copies will sell fast.
Karen Matteoni of Mad City Paddlers, who also sat on the Yahara Waterways steering committee, says even veteran paddlers such as herself will gain insights from the guide. In helping to fact-find and field-test Yahara Waterways, she was astonished by the number of unfamiliar features she learned were "hidden in plain view" along the water trail.
With the publication of Yahara Waterways, those features - and the trail itself - can come out of hiding.
Copies of Yahara Waterways can be downloaded at www.danewaters.com, where details on Take a Stake in the Lakes are also available. Printed copies cost $5, with proceeds funding future print runs (including a waterproof edition). Copies will be for sale at several Take a Stake events.