Verona Area Historical Society president Jesse Charles had been doing research on a leper colony said to have been owned by Dane County Hospital and Home and located in the Verona area, and he had a big question: Where was it located? He knew it was on County Lands, and even had it narrowed down to what is now Prairie Moraine Dog Park, but after scouring the park, sometimes on his hands and knees, he was still unable to locate it on his own.
Then he talked to Darren Marsh, Dane County Parks Director, who was able to provide some welcome assistance. He shared with Jesse aerial photography of the dog park taken in 2009 that used light art imagery, which helps to reveal differences in soil depth. One photograph showed three areas grouped rather closely together and located beside the service road and fairly near the entrance to the dog park. Even better, he connected Jesse with Dave Jelinski of the Prairie Moraine Friends. Dave knew the site Jesse was interested in and understood why he had been unable to find the "rock pile" he had been looking for in the park. The scrub brush there, mostly gray dogwood but including the invasive species multiflora rose, with all its thorns, was nearly impenetrable. But Dave and the volunteers of the Friends group were willing, and in November 2017 they cleared the site so that Jesse could get a better look. Happily, and exciting to Jesse and his fellow enthusiasts from the Verona Historical Society, the uncovered rocks looked a lot like building foundations.
It was time to consult archaeologists from the Wisconsin Historical Society. However, before the professionals could invest a lot of time in the effort, and before any sort of official "dig" would be undertaken, Jesse needed to establish with a high degree of probability that this had been the actual site of the former leper colony. Unable to do so using some of the more common signs used to distinguish a structure from a pile of rocks, there remained a strong indicator to check for: the presence of metal. So ... Jesse got permission from Dane County Parks and enlisted the help of an experienced man with a metal detector. Success! While a metal detector hardly provides a picture of what lies beneath the surface, this one told enough. It established the presence of multiple pieces of metal, both small and large, in the ground.
Getting the necessary permissions and paperwork completed to pursue work on the site further, and likely the acquisition of funding as well, can all take a lot of time and energy. Meanwhile, the Friends roped off the uncovered "foundations" to protect them from disturbance and from souvenir-collecting dog park users, and in only two years time the gray dogwood and other scrub brush have reclaimed the site for their own. When the Verona Historical Society and the Wisconsin Historical Society archaeologists are ready to proceed, the Prairie Moraine Friends stand ready to assist. In the meantime, we ask that while enjoying your dog walk in the park, if you see a pile of rocks marked as a historical restoration site, please don't disturb it in any way. And especially, don't remove anything from the site. Thank you for your cooperation.
On March 10, 2018, Jesse Charles presented "The Verona Leper Colony" at the Verona Senior Center, telling the story of his hunt for the site. It was recorded and can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube.
Bluebird monitoring has been going on for some time at Prairie Moraine Park, with a bluebird trail running throughout the park connecting thirteen numbered nesting boxes. For a while now, these boxes have been watched over and attended to by Jean Lepro. At the January 15, 2020 board meeting of Prairie Moraine Friends, a status report was given and the announcement of a "changing of the guard" was made.
Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin (BRAW) director Pat Ready introduced himself and gave a report on bluebird activity in Wisconsin for 2019. Pat said the total number of nesting pairs and fledglings have not yet been summarized but, at this point, the preliminary data shows a statewide decline in numbers. Pat told the group that part of the decline is attributed to a reduction in volunteer reporting of bluebird activity. However, he also said that much of the bluebird decline was real and had to do with an extremely wet spring. Pat explained that the wet conditions were followed by an unusually high gnat infestation in bluebird nests that killed many of the fledglings. Jean Lepro reported a similar reduction at Prairie Moraine Park. Jean counted four nesting bluebird pairs and four fledglings.
Jean told the group that she will be moving permanently to Arizona but, happily for the project, Prairie Moraine Friend Jay Brooks has agreed to take over monitoring and otherwise attending to the Prairie Moraine Bluebird Trail in 2020 and beyond. If you would like to volunteer to assist Jay with this valuable work, please let him know. All of our Prairie Moraine Friends group members can be reached using our Info@prairiemorainefriends.org email address.
The Friends of Donald Park have an active Bluebird Group of volunteers, with an excellent web page on what is involved in bluebird monitoring.