A leper colony consisting of a house, building, and woodshed existed on the site during the late 1800's to early 1900's. During this time period the property was owned by Dane County Hospital and Home. The area was used as a leper colony until the late 1920's or early 30's.
From the 30's to the 70's the land was relatively unused except for farming and livestock grazing purposes. In 1970 a 911 communication tower was established on the east side of the site. The tower is still being used.
In 1993, the land was transferred by resolution from the hospital to Dane County Parks "for park and open space purposes, as a corridor for the Ice Age Trail (IAT), and to relocate the Dane County Conservation League's conservation programs to the site."
Verona Area Historical Society president Jesse Charles had been doing research on the leper colony and 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 site, he was still unable to locate it on his own.
In 1994, the 80-acre Prairie Moraine or "Tower Site" was designated as the second Pet Exercise Area in Dane County.
(The first was a 12-acre area in Viking County Park in 1993).
The only improvements required were a gravel parking lot for access ...
and mowing some grass trails.
However, the use of the off-leash dog exercise area rapidly increased from the time the park was first opened for this purpose. Soon it was receiving an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 users per week. On a busy day there were more than 100 people and dogs using the area at any given time.
Then there was a report that dogs were not staying in the designated off-leash area and were entering private lands. There was even a report of a dog being caught in a trap on an adjacent property. The Parks Commission Dog Parks Sub-Committee asked that donors step forward to raise money for fencing the site. A fundraiser was held and upwards of $10,000 was raised to re-fence the outer perimeter of the property.
In 1995, the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation (IAPTF) and Dane County Parks co-wrote a grant to develop the IAT corridor through the park as well as providing an off-leash pet exercise area. The 1997 Master Plan was the result of that grant. Originally, there was no fence between the on-leash Ice Age Trail portion and the off-leash dog exercise area in the park. However, dividing the two areas using signage alone was not effective and the boundary between the two was not observed by park users.
The rule is: off-leash dog owner/handlers are required to have control of their dog(s) at all times. The dog(s) must be within view and under voice control of the owner/handler. Nevertheless, it became apparent that there was a wide range of training and control that various owner/handlers had over their dog(s). With off-leash dogs and their handlers frequenting the on-leash areas, and the lack of control sometimes exercised by the owner/handlers over their off-leash dogs, conflicts between the two user groups were common.
In addition, the steep topography of the site, highly erodable soil types present, and the heavy use of unofficial or "volunteer" trails combined to create serious erosion issues and threatened preservation of the unique geological features of the park. Heavy foot traffic and freely roaming dogs also undercuts vegetative restoration efforts and encourages the spread of invasive plant species. These issues led to the construction of the internal fencing between the two areas of the park.
DUE TO EROSION PROBLEMS
PLEASE USE MARKED TRAILS
Originally there was only one parking lot to serve the entire park, both the off-leash dog exercise area and the on-leash Ice Age Trail area. The capacity of the lot was frequently exceeded - parking overflowing onto Wesner Road and causing congestion, conflict with other users of the road (there was still a private residence on Wesner Road at that time), and the danger of blocking emergency vehicles.
The problem was addressed by moving the entrance for the off-leash exercise area further down Wesner road. A new, 74-car parking lot was constructed at the new location. The double gate system into the park was also installed, to help reduce congestion at the entrance and increase safety for the dogs. Work began on the parking lot relocation in August of 2014 and this phase of the project was completed within a few months.
The final phase of the project was completed in May of 2018 with the paving of Wesner Road and the Ice Age Trail parking lot (originally gravel).
Most recently, a welcome amenity was added to the dog park - a portable restroom facility located in the southeast corner of the parking lot.
In fall of 2019, a tasting orchard was planted by Dane County parks staff in the area between the off-leash parking lot and Resurrection Lutheran Church. Including a variety of apple and pear trees, along with some crab apple trees for color, park users will be welcome to enjoy the fruit of the orchard in season. Please, no harvesting for sale.
In 2020, a new, three-panel, informational kiosk was constructed by Dane County Parks staff at the east end of the off-leash dog exercise area near "Memory Forest."
An additional 12-acre parcel at the southwest end of the park has been purchased - to be fenced and added to the off-leash area in 2023.