Cherokee Marsh (North Unit)

My first adventure was completely unplanned. It was New Year’s Eve and I was staying at my parents’ house in Madison. I sat down at the computer for a second before deciding that I just needed to get out. I didn’t know (or care) where, but in that moment, I simply could not fathom staying in one spot.

I grabbed my camera and hopped in my car. The wind chill was below zero and the air temperature wasn’t a whole lot above zero, so my car was none too pleased about my excursion. I headed to the first place I could think of: Cherokee Marsh.

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I have a lot of memories attached to Cherokee Marsh. When you grow up on the north side of Madison, you take a lot of field trips there (particularly when it’s more or less down the road from your school). After a misstep on one such trip that left me with one soggy sock and shoe, one of my childhood friends took to calling me Erikee-Cherokee Marsh for the majority of elementary school. I couldn’t escape it, yet it was the first place I thought of when I needed an escape, so it’s clearly closer to my heart than I realized.

I got there around 4 PM, which means the sun was well on its way down. The sign says the park closes at “dusk” – I have yet to figure out exactly what point of darkness constitutes “dusk” and I didn’t want to be trapped there, so I parked and decided to follow the shortest path. The icy air felt like daggers slicing through my lungs and I began to question my sanity, but I walked on.

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Everything made sense when I reached the observation deck. Before that moment I couldn’t have told you why I was out there, aside from the feeling that I just had to be. But I looked over the marsh as the sun was setting and I felt a wonderful sense of peace that I hadn’t known I needed. It was in that moment that I finally understood.

I understood what I had been missing by staying at home all the time. I understood what it meant to be part of something bigger than myself. I understood why there was a wind chill advisory that day. As I stood there, I found a sense of self as I lost the feeling in my thumbs. I didn’t realize it yet, but the last day of the year was the first day of my journey.

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If you want to visit Cherokee Marsh, here are some important bits of information:

  • Park hours are 4 AM to dusk.
  • There is a restroom available near the parking lot.
  • The North Unit (where I was) has 2.6 miles of trails and includes a boardwalk and two observation decks.
  • This is a conservation park, so no dogs allowed. (You can, however, go to the nearby Yahara Heights Dog Park if you want some place to take your canine companion.)

To learn even more about Cherokee Marsh, you can check out the following links:
Friends of Cherokee Marsh
City of Madison Parks
Wisconsin DNR


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