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Sasaki’s Lake Monona Waterfront Park Wins Final Approval in Madison

After eleven months of active community engagement, rigorous design studies, and committee review meetings, Sasaki’s plan for a visionary park on the shores of Lake Monona has won unanimous approval from the Madison Common Council.

Currently, Lake Monona’s waterfront is difficult to access because of its proximity to a busy roadway, John Nolen Drive, and due to significant grade change between the city and the water’s edge. Sasaki’s plan for a 17-acre linear park envisions new park space, amenities, and safe passageway for pedestrians and bikes, all while ecologically restoring the lake’s edge for generations to come.

The City of Madison selected Sasaki in an intensive design competition last May because of the plan’s commitment to sustainability, history, and integrating public feedback. Since then, Sasaki conducted extensive community engagement, submitted a master plan report to the city, and solicited feedback on the report from several commissions and committees, including the Transportation Commission, Madison Arts Commission, Urban Design Commission, Plan Commission, and Board of Park Commissioners. Throughout the project, Sasaki actively participated and led community engagements in six large public events, and processed over 8,000 public survey comments.

With Common Council approval, a plan refined by input from thousands of Madisonians has become the official blueprint for the waterfront’s future. “Madison is a beautiful city with a storied history and strong civic tradition,” says Anna Cawrse, principal at Sasaki. “Our original design drew deeply on the history, and the final plan drew from countless voices who showed up to neighborhood and committee meetings over the past year. This design is by and for the people of Madison.”

A restored waterfront

During the engagement process, the community emphasized the importance of restoring the waterfront. The plan will create a vibrant living edge, an environmental restoration strategy that protects and provides habitat for amphibious life in the region. New green infrastructure will clean stormwater before it enters Lake Monona.

Safer connections to downtown and the water’s edge

New pedestrian infrastructure will facilitate a stronger connection to Madison’s downtown and south neighborhoods. Bike and pedestrian crossings will be improved through the Community Causeway, a new trail system between the two anchoring green spaces in the plan: Olin Overlook, new park space in south Madison, and Law Park Ledge, the new amenity-rich park space walkable from downtown. Besides serving as a link between neighborhoods, the Causeway will be a destination in its own right, with multiple pockets of benches, vistas, and interactive educational kiosks. The proposed underpass at Lake Lounge also provides safer access to the lake-side trail system for pedestrians and bikers.


A green oasis for Madison

Olin Overlook becomes a green oasis in Madison’s urban landscape, which also provides open space to families and visitors in the area. 

Visitors will be able to explore the restored forest from above via the Canopy Walk, an accessible boardwalk that soars through the tree canopy, or learn about the park’s successional forest at a new interactive nature center. At the overlook above the water’s edge, visitors will also be treated to beautiful views of downtown Madison.

New community boat house, amphitheater, and more

Just blocks away from Madison’s capitol at Law Park Ledge, a capped park over John Nolen Drive provides direct access to the lakefront and additional green space to the city. The elevated park will feature a wide range of amenities to boost the downtown economy, including an outdoor amphitheater, a community boat house, and a concession area. Law Park Ledge will support all kinds of large gatherings along the Lake’s shoreline, celebrating events like summertime waterski performances from the local Mad City Ski Team.

Sailing on – next steps and phasing

The approval from the Common Council marks the beginning of the detailed design and first phase of implementation for the waterfront plan. Sasaki will collaborate closely with the City to establish a practical phasing and implementation timeline in coordination with a federally-funded project to improve John Nolen Drive. Phase One design, which includes the Community Causeway and between the North Shore Drive intersection and Olin Park, is set to commence in summer 2024, with an anticipated groundbreaking in early 2026.

Phase One will mark the start of an exciting transformation of the waterfront into a connected and bustling waterfront that Madisonians have envisioned for generations.

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