PAMELA COTANT For the State Journal
A district park on Lake Kegonsa with a fascinating conservation history was the site of the first festival, designed to encourage children to take care of the land, the water and the creatures that live there.
“If we started introducing them to the lake and the opportunities that would teach them to love the water and care for the animals, they could really be ambassadors of the lake and stewards of the land,” said Kim VanBrocklin of the Friends of Lake Kegonsa Society.
The Kids Raptor Fest was held on September 11th at Fish Camp County Park in McFarland, which is on the northwest shore of Lake Kegonsa at the mouth of the Yahara River. Because of the rain, it was held in a 1937 building that was part of a fish camp set up by the Wisconsin Conservation Department to remove invasive carp that are affecting water quality and disturbing habitat for native aquatic plants and animals.
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But that day, birds of prey were the stars of the day at the event, which was designed to encourage attendees to take care of the lake and river to protect the habitat and ecosystem that attracts the birds, said VanBrocklin, chair of the Society’s Wildlife Committee, which spearheaded the event. Due to bird flu concerns, Antigo’s Raptor Education Group did not bring the live birds.
The idea for the festival was to create something that represented a science fair, but it was also designed to be multi-generational, so it included talks that would attract adults. A canoe and kayak trip to a squatted osprey nest on Lake Kegonsa was also planned but was canceled due to the weather.
The group chose the date because it is Grandparents Day and some children had grandparents with them. Tillie Igielski’s grandparents, Pat and Cindy Guiney, were there. Pat Guiney is on the Company’s board of directors.
“I did everything,” said third grader Tillie from Madison about her participation in the activities.
She also came with her parents Jim and Josie and her brother Crosby who is into 4K.
Caitlin Kiley, from Oregon, came with her two daughters, first grader Sofia Munoz Kiley and two-year-old Violeta Munoz Kiley.
“We just wanted the opportunity to do a few things in nature,” Kiley said. “When we found out it was raining, we didn’t care that it was indoors … We heard there would be things they could touch.”
Kate Goscha, from Madison, said the event was related to her first grade son’s love of the outdoors. She said Jack is always looking for animals like turtles and birds. He said his favorite pastime is matching x-rays with animal photos.
Speakers included Rich Staffen, a zoologist and conservation biologist at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and an authority on birds of prey, who spoke about ospreys. He originally planned to lead the canoe and kayak excursion and then speak on the spot.
Patrick Ready talked about owls, kestrels and ospreys. Living in Stoughton and working with the city and utilities to ensure safe nesting sites, he became an osprey resource. In recent years he has been involved in monitoring American kestrels nest boxes for Madison Audubon in Dane County.
Information booths were set up by Wild Birds Unlimited, the Aldo Leopold Nature Center, the International Crane Foundation and the Dane County Humane Society Wildlife Center. The ED Locke Public Library in McFarland brought books on topics like climate change, zebra mussels, bird watching and pollinator gardens for people to check out that day.
Other activities included crafts, such as making a snowy owl using a pine cone and cotton, and decorating binoculars out of paper towel tubes. Games included matching X-rays of animals with photos of birds and other animals, and matching weighted sandbags to the correct birds based on what they would weigh. When children completed a scavenger hunt in nature, they could select and open an egg found in a life-size replica of an osprey’s nest to receive a prize.
Two 4ft by 4ft osprey nesting platforms that mount on utility poles were also on display. Mike Nee of Deerfield volunteered his services for the company’s project and took over manufacturing at Isthmus Engineering and Manufacturing where he had previously worked. Isthmus also donated the materials and design engineering services.
A sign posted on one wall allowed people to measure their own wingspan with the five birds of prey seen on Lake Kegonsa – bald eagle, osprey, sandhill crane, great horned owl and red-tailed hawk – and then receive a sticker with their measurement.
The Society received a $5,000 grant from the Alliant Energy Foundation to pay for the portable sign and a permanent sign that will be constructed of wood and will be 8 feet by 6 feet. It will be built by Sign Art Studio of Mount Horeb and will be installed at Fish Camp County Park this spring.
Fish Camp County Park is supported in part by the Friends of Lake Kegonsa Society, who helped renovate the building where the festival was held. It is known as the ‘net house’ because it stored the equipment for removing the carp from the lake using miles of surrounding nets called seines. This building and another 1937 building known as the “Corn House” were built by the Works Progress Administration, a federal Depression-era work program.
The corn house contained milk cans of corn kernels to feed the carp in the holding pond until the live carp were transported to breeding ponds or fresh fish markets. The practice ceased in 1969 due to declining carp markets and rising operating costs, but other efforts are being made to continue removing carp.
Improvements planned at the park include creating accessible fishing and boating piers and building a new bike path that will connect Fish Camp County Park to Lake Kegonsa State Park in Stoughton. When completed, it will serve as a section of the Lower Yahara River Trail.