Baraboo’s Ochsner Park turns 100

January 23, 2019
Mike Hardy

Baraboo plans to celebrate the centennial of its oldest park this year. Yet to be determined is how long the party will last and who will pay for it.

Ochsner Park turns 100 this year. Baraboo Parks Director Mike Hardy told the city’s Parks Commission on Monday that a centennial celebration may be scheduled to coincide with the Ochsner family reunion, held at the park each August. He and Sauk County Historical Society Executive Director Paul Wolter are researching the site’s past and planning a birthday party that could include old-time games and throwback music.

“We’ve just started to put together some ideas,” Hardy said.

Several improvements are planned for the park and its zoo this year. Zoo exhibits are being renovated as part of a reorganization spurred by construction of a new deer pen last spring. New signs are planned for the park, so crumbling wooden letters on the current ones can be replaced.

Parks commissioners suggested celebrating the park’s history throughout the year, and asking the Baraboo Area Chamber of Commerce and the city Business Improvement District to chip in.

“This seems like it should be a city celebration,” Commission President Roy Franzen said.

Even if the centennial is limited to a one-day event, it could be broadened to include an arts festival, Franzen added. “I think there are a lot of things that could happen with this celebration. It’s endless.”

Ochsner family members suggested hiring the Hal Edwards Orchestra to perform in the park’s 100-year-old bandstand. The city is seeking a Sauk County arts and historical preservation grant to help cover the $8,000 to $10,000 cost of hiring the big band, known for its performances at the Devil’s Lake State Park chateau. The Ochsner family may be asked to contribute, as well.

“I want a big party,” commissioner Angela Witczak said.

Dr. Albert Ochsner donated 2.5 acres of land to the city in 1918. The city bought another 9.5 acres from the Ochsner family to create a park that over time would grow to cover 26 acres. That year the city established its first park board and built the bandstand and playground equipment.

The zoo was added in 1926 with deer donated by the Wisconsin Conservation Department and two bear cubs caught near Wisconsin Dells. The next year, monkeys were added.

“There’s a lot of history there,” Hardy said.

In the past year the zoo has added river otters and beavers. A pond for the beavers will be created as part of the renovation of multiple exhibits in the location formerly occupied by the deer herd.

The parks commission on Monday unanimously approved placing an entrance/exit at the corner of Park Street and Zoo Lane. Concern has been expressed about pedestrian safety there, but a steep grade and tight turn at the zoo’s entrance from the parking lot makes that gate — the zoo’s only other entry point — inaccessible to some visitors.

“That’ll give us two access points,” Hardy said.

“I think that’s a no-brainer,” Franzen said.

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