The Lakeshore Path
The Lakeshore Path is the ribbon that ties the entire Lakeshore Nature
Preserve together—the path either runs through or near all the major
areas in the Preserve.
There are actually two trail segments that make up the Lakeshore Path:
the Howard Temin Path and the Lake Mendota Path.
The Howard Temin Path extends from North Park Street (east) to Oxford
Road (west). The Howard Temin Path was given this name in 1998 as a tribute
to the late UW-Madison professor of oncology and Nobel Prize winner. Howard
Temin often walked and bicycled along the path, finding opportunities
for quiet reflection and contemplation along the shoreline.
The Lake Mendota Path intersects with the Temin Path at the
main gate to Picnic Point where it extends to the tip of Picnic Point then follows the shoreline to Wally
Bauman Woods. Please note: bicycling is permitted on the Howard Temin Path but it is not permitted on the Lake Mendota Path.
Taken together these two sections comprise the Lakeshore Path.
We invite you to take a stroll or ride along the Lakeshore Path to enjoy
the many opportunities it offers for viewing the lake, glimpsing the wild
creatures who live along its margins, meditating on the beauty of nature,
and sharing the company of friends.
A trail thousands of years old
The Lakeshore Path developed over many years—indeed, thousands
of years. There can be little doubt that the earliest people to arrive
in this area, about 12,000 years ago, created footpaths along the shore
to gain access to the water or move between their habitations and ceremonial
sites. When we travel along the lakeshore today, we are literally
following in the footsteps of those who came before.
ancient Native American presence in the Four Lakes region is explored
in greater detail at our webpage
on Native American presence in the Preserve.
The first European-American settlers in this area no doubt followed many
of the same well-established Indian routes around the lake. It should
be noted, however, that with the construction in 1849 of a dam at Lake
Mendota's outlet into the Yahara River (near the site of today's Tenney
Park Lock), water levels rose at least 4 feet. Subsequent dam expansion
raised the water level even higher. In places, this meant that formerly
dry ground was flooded and is now under water. Some of the original Indian
footpaths thus now lie beneath the waters of the lake.
Farm roads and pleasure
The first segment of the
Lakeshore Path constructed (or improved) was developed on the
198-acre parcel of land purchased by the university in 1866 west
of the original campus on Bascom Hill. This tract was acquired to
create an Experimental Farm, which came to support a variety of
agricultural enterprises such as orchards, livestock pastures, and
Also read our full article about Observatory
A little-known consequence of early development
of the farm (Fig. 1) was the construction of a network of farm
roads and pleasure drives in the late 1860s.
The first university farm superintendent, Prof. Daniells, proudly
described the drives in the student newspaper (University
April 15, 1871):
...one and three fourths miles of avenues have been
constructed, three fourths of a mile extending along the shore
of Lake Mendota. These avenues afford pleasant drives, and
add greatly to the attraction of the grounds by giving an opportunity
to visit in carriages localities from which may be seen some
of the most beautiful landscape views in this vicinity....
The use of the Experimental Farm's shoreline road for recreational
carriage drives was quite popular with the residents of Madison.
With the rapid expansion of the city and the university populations,
interest grew in linking the university road to the already constructed
pleasure drive near Eagle Heights.
In 1892, a small group of energetic Madison leaders pooled their
resources and built a westward extension to the Experimental Farm
drives, crossing over what was then private land adjacent to University
Bay. This new route required the construction of a bridge to span
Willow Creek, then known as University Creek (Fig. 2). Within
two years of completing the new so-called Bay Road and rustic
bridge, the group founded a new organization: the Madison Park
and Pleasure Drive Association (MPPDA).
The new Bay Road was constructed on a sand bar ridge that separated
University Bay from the marshy area to the west. Long rows of
trees were planted along the sides of the 33-foot wide road. The
tree planting was carefully overseen by John M. Olin, a law professor
at the university and for many years the president of the Madison
Park and Pleasure Drive Association.
Olin sought trees that would stabilize the highly
erodable shoreline, produce shade quickly, and be able to tolerate
wet soil conditions. Willow trees, primarily the crack and golden
species, were selected to meet these conditions and were purchased
from nurseries across the Midwest. For a time, Olin used his
property (now part of the Preserve's Big Woods)
as a plant nursery for his MPPDA landscaping projects. The first
willows along the Bay Road were planted in 1900, and by 1910
a full canopy is evident in historic photographs.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the name of this route
soon changed to reflect the double row of willow trees stretching
from the rustic bridge at University Creek to the base of Picnic
Point (Fig. 3). Before long, the creek was being called "Willow
the Bay Road became "Willow Walk." (In subsequent years,
other names for this road have included Willow Drive, University
Drive, and Lake Road-not to mention the Preserve's own Lakeshore
Willows are not particularly long-lived trees, due in part to
their habit of rapid growth. By the 1970s, most of the original
trees planted in the early 1900s were in decline and posed a possible
safety hazard from falling limbs. Many of the willows were removed
and replaced at this time.
Additional willows were removed in 2004 in the course of a major
restoration of the Howard Temin Lakeshore Path. This time, instead
of exclusively planting non-native willows, landscape planners
selected a combination of swamp white oaks and river birch (both
native species) to mix with the replacement golden willows. As
the remaining older willows along this part of the Lakeshore Path
decline, new willows will be planted in combination with native
trees to maintain this landscape heritage.
Students lead the Lake Path Improvement
construction of the Tripp and Adams Men's Residence Halls in 1925
and the Kronshage units a decade later led to much heavier student
use of the path along the lake connecting the lakeshore
dormitory area to the lower campus. The opening of
Elizabeth Waters Hall on the north slope of Observatory Hill in
1940 increased still further student use of the lake path. The
portion of the lake path between the present-day Charter Street
extension and the Union was particularly challenging. This narrow
and unimproved trail segment was slippery and muddy much
of the time during inclement weather (Fig.4).
1. This map of the Experimental Farm clearly shows the
location of a stretch of roadway from the present-day Social Science
Building to Goodnight Hall. The handwritten notation in the lower
right-hand corner indicates the date of this map as circa 1875,
but we now believe that it was probably created between 1870 and
1874. (Source: CLP M0002) Large
map 236Kb Full
size map 6Mb
2. The handwritten note on this card postmarked 1908 reads: "We
drove over this bridge last night it is much more beautiful than this
picture. They have miles and miles of beautiful roadways like this
the anglers fishing from the bridge, much as they do today. The willow
trees look quite small and are widely spaced. (Source: CLP-W0033) Large
3. These trees are no more than 12 years old (and probably younger). University Bay is visible on the right. Large
|Figure 4. Tthis hand-colored greeting card postmarked 1916 carried the cryptic inscription "Wooded area, near university buildings." From similar-looking postcards from this era, we now know that this is a picture of the shoreline path at the base of today's Muir Woods. Some historical references called this lovely spot "Lover's Lane." (Source: CLP-W0023).
In the spring of 1941, a committee of the Student Board, the campus student
government, decided to improve the lake path. Under the leadership of
Robert Avery, Class of 1941, the group promoted an all-campus student
work day to widen and resurface the lake path between the men's dorms
and the Union, using cinders from the University heating plant. Calling
themselves the campus WPA - We Pave Anything - they collected graders,
steam rollers, a large supply of shovels and rakes borrowed from the real
WPA office, and 1700 cubic yards of UW cinders for the undertaking.
the scheduled date on Saturday, May 17, 1941, the project had become a
competition between the Greeks of Langdon Street and the residents of
the lakeshore dorms. That morning both groups marched behind two brass
bands to the eastern terminus of the lake path at the Hydraulic Lab, where
President Clarence Dykstra threw the first shovel of cinders (Fig. 5).
Engineering students employed their surveying skills and others
used the borrowed heavy equipment to widen and grade the path. Students,
numbering 1,200 men and women (Fig. 6), then worked so industriously
with shovels and rakes that they ran out of cinders late in the day. This
first student work day ended appropriately with a celebratory street dance
at the Memorial Union and refreshments contributed by Madison's Fauerbach
The University's Board of Regents was so impressed by this student volunteer
effort that itadopted a special resolution thanking the student body
for its "valuable service."
Figure 5. Photo top: President
Dykstra shaking hands with Robert Avery, class of 1941 and organizer
of the first campus Work Day, before beginning work on resurfacing
the lakeshore path. Source: "President Dykstra during Work
Day," May 14, 1941 (archival photo date May 17, 1941), University
of Wisconsin archive images, UW Digital Collections, UW.UWArchives.dn06072605.bib.
Figure 6. Photo bottom: Over
1200 students spread more than seventeen hundred cubic yards of
cinders to resurface the lakeshore path during the first campus-wide
Work Day, on Saturday, May 14, 1941. Source: "Resurfacing
of the lakeshore path during Work Day," May 14, 1941
(archival photo date May 17, 1941), University of Wisconsin
archive images, UW Digital Collections, UW.UWArchives.dn06072606.bib.
Willow Walk to Willow Drive: enter the automobile
With the growing popularity of automobiles in the early part of the twentieth
century, conflicts with horse-drawn carriages along Willow Walk were
inevitable. Speed limits and restrictions on times and days of use only
partially alleviated the tension between carriages and cars. Between
1928 and 1931, an additional lane was added to the Willow Walk, running
parallel to the original route between Picnic Point and Willow Creek.
It appears that at this time the name "Willow Drive" came
into use, replacing earlier names.
Traffic volume continued to increase along the Willow Drive as the number
of cars on the west end of campus rose. In response, proposals were made
to add another new lane to the drive. Other people advocated extending
Willow Drive all the way to the Memorial Union-from Elm Drive to North
In 1957, a controversial recommendation was made to build a new "Shore
Drive" that would have necessitated filling parts of the lake near
the Lakeshore Residence Halls. A 350-space parking lot was also contemplated
at this time-to be constructed on new land created by filling in Lake
Mendota near the present-day Hasler Limnology Lab. Fortunately both proposals
were rejected. Just imagine how different the Lakeshore Path would be
today if these concepts hadn't been soundly defeated!
At right, news clipping "Where
Mendota Shore Drive Would Run," Wisconsin
State Journal, April 28, 1957
Despite the defeat of the Shore Drive and lake parking lot proposals,
Willow Drive was expanded. In 1958, a decision was made to create a third
lane—just to the west of the earlier roads. The new road (third lane)
between Lake Mendota Drive and Walnut Street allowed planners to close
the original lakeside lane to all but pedestrian, bicycle, and boat launching
traffic. As an additional measure to control traffic, the portion of Willow
Drive between Walnut Drive and Elm Drive was restricted to one-way auto
traffic, moving from east to west.
Over the next 30 years, conflicts between pedestrians, bicyclists, and
automobiles were not uncommon on sections of Willow Drive where a hodge-podge
of lane restrictions applied. Bicycles and cars often were uncertain about
(or ignored) the rules of the road. The confusion over road rights came
into clear focus with a tragic accident in 1991. Along a segment of shoreline
road near the beach at The Willows (also called Willow Beach), a cyclist
was killed—due in part to the confusing confluence of cars, bicycles,
and pedestrians all operating on a narrow road. Two bicyclists, traveling
in opposite directions, collided head-on as they tried to pass each other
in the narrow space allocated to bike riders. One of the bicyclists (the
one not wearing a helmet) died from injuries sustained during the fall.
Soon after, all non-official car travel was prohibited on these shoreline
Recent changes to the Lakeshore Path
most recent major modification of the Lakeshore Path occurred in 2004
as part of a $411,000 project on the west end of the Howard Temin Lakeshore
Path segment between Oxford Road and the Willow Creek Bridge.
project was designed to improve safety, promote accessibility, and prevent
flooding. It involved:
- narrowing the width of the path to create more green space and reduce
- improving biker and pedestrian/jogger safety by
creating separate user lanes
- redesigning street intersections
access to the boat launch area
- and resurfacing and raising portions
of the path to prevent floodwaters from reaching University
As a consequence of the regrading, hazardous willow trees were
cut down and replaced with 51 new trees.
Today the Lakeshore Path is used by hundreds of visitors each day: as
a source of recreation, as part of a daily commute to work or class, or
as a daily ritual to clear the mind and reflect on more important things
in the midst of a busy day. We hope your visit will be safe and enjoyable.
learn more about the Lakeshore Path read these articles:
Mendota Shore Drive Would Run," Wisconsin State Journal, April 28, 1957
Faculty Kills Proposal for Lake-Fill Parking Space," Wisconsin
State Journal, June 4, 1957
clipping: Joe Shoenmann, "Willow
Drive Car Ban Pushed," Capital
Times, Feb. 5, 1991
see a map of the historic location of the pleasure drives on the lakeshore,
go to the interactive
map and click the Human Landscapes button, then turn on the "Madison
Park and Pleasure Drive Association" layer .
Restoration and Plans
One of the great appeals of traveling along the Lakeshore Path is the
opportunity to view Lake Mendota. Unfortunately, over the past few decades
invasive woody shrubs, such as buckthorn and honeysuckle, have grown
up along the shoreline, making it almost impossible to see the lake in
many parts of the path.
While some people might assume that these dense
thickets of shrubs are helping to stabilize erodable banks, this is
rarely the case. More often, the invasive shrubs are growing so densely
that they are shading out all the plants that might otherwise cover the
ground. These ground-layer plants are critically important for holding
soil on steep banks and keeping wave-action or stormwater run-off from
eroding the shore banks. Invasive shrubs not only degrade the
ability of visitors to enjoy some of the most beautiful aspects of the
Lakeshore Path, but threaten the shoreline as well.
If you look beneath a buckthorn or honeysuckle shrub, what you will notice
is bare ground—so effective are these plants at preventing any competition
at their feet.
Opening up views by selective removal of undesirable woody shrubs has
already begun. Invasive shrub removal is followed with restoration
activities to stabilize erodable banks, re-establish fertile soils, and re-introduce
site-appropriate native plants. This vital view-opening and restoration
work began early in the spring of 2006 and will continue for an indefinite
period. Perhaps you have noticed some of the re-established views from
the path near the Lakeshore Residence Halls. This important restoration
work is being funded by generous gifts provided by the Class of 1953 and
the Academic Fund.
|Preserve staff install erosion
control fabric to stabilize bank
prior to replanting. August 2006
(Source: D. Einstein)
|Two months after seeding, young
grasses are well established. Additional herbaceous plants will
soon be added to create a stable shoreline bank, with low-growing
plants that will not obscure lake views. October 2006. (Source:
Visiting and Recreation
The Lakeshore Path provides a wide array of recreational opportunities.
All types of visitors can enjoy the Lakeshore Path: cyclists, walkers,
joggers, parents pushing strollers, roller bladers, or even cross-country
In order to provide everyone with a safe and pleasurable experience,
we ask that you follow these guidelines:
- Travel at speeds that are safe for you and the other people with
whom you share the path. On sections where the path is undivided, please
stay to the right and allow others the option of passing. Where available,
use the segregated pedestrian and bicycle lanes as appropriate.
- Please remember that bicycles are ONLY permitted on the Howard Temin
Path segment (North Park Street to Oxford Road) and the paved path that passes through the woods from the Howard Temin Lakeshore Path to the intersection of Lake Mendota Drive and Eagle Heights Drive. Bicycles may not be ridden on any other trails and
roads in the Preserve.
- Dogs are permitted in the Preserve, but they must be on leash at all
times. Please pick up after your pet.
- University service vehicles must occasionally travel on the Lakeshore
Path to do maintenance work. Private vehicles are prohibited from
driving on the path at all times.
the entrances to the Lakeshore Path on the Interactive
Map. Select the checkboxes to see access and routes along the Lakeshore
Path. There are several major gateways:
East (Howard Temin segment): Trailhead at the north end of North Park
Street, near the Memorial Union.
West (Howard Temin segment): Trailhead at the intersection of University
Bay Drive and Oxford Road
Picnic Point (Lake Mendota Path segment): Trailhead at the opening
in the stone wall, off University Bay Drive
Raymer's Cove (Lake Mendota Path segment): Trailhead off Lake Mendota
Wally Bauman Woods (Lake Mendota Path segment): Trailhead near the
intersection of Eagle Heights Drive and Lake Mendota Drive
The unpublished manuscript, A Niche in Time, co-authored by Richard McCabe and Stefanie Carpenter (now S. Brouwer), as well as other material produced by the University Bay Project, provided valuable references and insights used in the preparation of this article. These materials are available for review at the university archives at Steenbock Memorial Library.
Text and Photo credits:
- Text: Daniel Einstein with contribution by E. David
Cronon, ( Lake Path Improvement section).
- Photo: Visitng and recreation photo. Jeff Miller, UW-Madison.