Photo by Joe Leute

In her hit “Big Yellow Taxi,” singer Joni Mitchell lamented that “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” At the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the alumni association has done just the opposite. It removed a parking lot and replaced it with a park celebrating UW alumni and traditions.

With 34,000 square feet of green space and more than 50 museum-style exhibits, it’s a beautiful spot to stroll, snap photos and learn something. It’s convenient to both the university and downtown Madison attractions, like the Dane County Farmers’ Market.

Most of the exhibits were designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates, whose work also appears at the Smithsonian and the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center.

“Alumni Park is intended to be experienced day and night, so many exhibits are illuminated or use shadows to tell stories,” says Mary Carbine, the park’s managing director.

One such exhibit is the Badger Pride Wall, an 80-foot-long steel structure with backlit illustrations of iconic Madison sights. As the steel ages, it develops a rich brown color, suggesting that greatness takes time.

Speaking of greatness, Alumni Way honors the achievements of scores of UW graduates, including medical innovators, astronauts and political figures. Th roughout the park, you’ll find inspirational quotes from alums like A.C. Nielsen, a Chicago native and market-research pioneer. All these things serve a singular purpose: highlighting the Wisconsin Idea, the UW’s notion that its knowledge should serve people throughout the state, country and world.

Before you depart, enjoy the natural beauty of Lake Mendota and the taste of Alumni Park After Dark. Available at the Union’s Daily Scoop, it’s made from the UW’s Babcock ice cream and features a dark chocolate base, white chocolate chips and a caramel swirl.

This article originally appeared in the 2018 spring/summer issue of Experience Wisconsin magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.

No portion of this article or magazine may be reproduced without prior written permission by the publisher.


In addition writing arts-themed books and articles, Jessica Steinhoff has served as an editor at two Wisconsin newspapers: Madison's Isthmus and Milwaukee's Shepherd Express.