Our Towns

Local community members share their favorite small town getaways.

Local community members share their favorite small town getaways.

Madeline Island

Glenn Carlson, Former Executive Director of Fair Wisconsin
Michael Childers, Realtor, Island Shores Realty on Madeline Island

Madeline is the largest of the 22 islands in the Apostle Islands. The other 21 islands are national treasures, designated the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Gaylord Nelson Wilderness).

The island has about 250 year round residents, and is guest to over 2500-3000 week-long and summer residents during the summer season. There are so many things to do and places to go on the island, from Tom’s Burned Down Cafe to the Madeline Island Music Camp, gourmet restaurants like Lotta’s and the Pub, the Beach Club and Bell Street Tavern. Kayaking, sailing, boating, snowmobiling, cross county sking, hiking, the Big Bay State Park—the list goes on and on.

The ride is about 5.5 to 6 hours from Madison, and 1/2 hour ferry ride during the summer. When the weather turns cold we have an ice road that we drive across during the middle of the winter.

We built a home on the island in 2006 and spend as much time as possible there. Matter of fact, I’m living on the island most of the year now.

Glenn likes to boast that when Wisconsin confronted the Marriage issue in the 2006 election, La Pointe (on Madeline Island) voted no in a percentage that was second only to Madison.

Cooksville

Michael Fumelle, Residential Loan Officer of Associated Bank

Cooksville is an unincorporated “four corners” village in northwestern Rock County, about 6 miles south of Stoughton. The village founded in 1842 is rich with early history and charming mid-nineteenth-century architecture. Often called “a wee bit of New England in Wisconsin,” it is a quaint throwback in time, perfect for a walk on a winter, spring, summer or autumn day, especially around the Public Square surrounded by 19th century residences, many built of locally-fired vermilion-colored brick. Most of the houses and buildings in the historic district (listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973) have been rehabilitated, and the historic one-room schoolhouse is now the Community Center. The Cooksville General Store dates from 1846 and is still in business (the Store was the first stop on the ACT ride this last August), and nearby on the Badfish Creek is an old, historic steel bridge that is now closed to car traffic but is frequented by bicyclists in the spring through autumn months.

Larry Reed, a long time resident of Cooksville and a civic leader in the village, owns two corners of the main intersection in the village. On one corner he lives in a beautifully restored 1848 Greek Revival house, which has been featured in national magazines. The home is filled with antiques from the 18th and 19th centuries. Larry gives tours to special interest groups upon request and enjoys showing people around “the town that time forgot.” On the corner opposite his home is the 19th century Cooksville Congregational Church with four minarets and a bell tower, which Larry and his late partner purchased and restored to its original appearance (it had been used as the town hall in the 1940s and 50s). Larry now rents out the church for weddings, commitment ceremonies, and musical events. The church would be the perfect spot for LGBT couples who want a quiet, quaint commitment ceremony in a pastoral, rural setting.

Larry is the local historian and is available to give talks on Cooksville’s history year round. A stroll with him through the historic village becomes the story of gay men who have loved the community and have helped preserve and celebrate its early history and architecture, beginning a hundred years ago when Ralph Warner, the first of the village’s “antiquarians,” discovered the quiet little historic community and opened his antique-filled home to luncheon guests while he played the piano in the parlor.

Spring Green

Abbie Hill, Grant Coordinator, WI Dept. of Tourism

If you love the arts then you’ll find Spring Green has a lot to offer for only an hour’s drive. My favorite is American Players Theatre, a professional Shakespearean company performing dramatic classics on an open-air stage. The summer 2009 line-up includes Shakespeare’s Henry V, The Winter’s Tale and The Comedy of Errors. While Shakespeare is APT’s heart, they also perform other classic works. The acting is always phenomenal and the costuming is fabulous, too. This is a special year for APT because they plan to open their new 200-seat indoor theater in July.

Artists and craftspeople call this area home and many open the doors to their studios and workspaces every October for the Fall Art Tour.  If you like architecture there’s Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin and the Wisconsin River is nearby so you can rent a canoe or have a picnic there.

Local businesses I recommend: Start your tour with a home-cooked breakfast with an ethnic flavor at the Spring Green General Store.  While you wait for your meal, you can browse their selection of handcrafted jewelry, cards, house wares and natural cosmetics.  Side note—the Spring Green General Store is also the producer of the annual Memorial Day weekend outdoor music event Bobfest, a tribute to Bob Dylan’s birthday featuring 12 hours of food and music.

For more shopping, head right across the street from the General Store to peruse the Albany Shops, seven boutiques featuring unique clothing, jewelry, gifts, books, toys and Amish crafts that you won’t find locally in Madison.  Or venture out to the Medicine Buddha Healing Center on Clyde Rd.

Sugar River

Mo Kappes, Outdoor Programs Coordinator, Rutabaga Paddlesports Shop

love this trip because I can paddle and bike all in one excursion. You can throw the bikes in the canoe or park them at the town park in Brodhead (the take-out for this section) and switch easily from canoeing to biking. The paddling section takes about three hours to complete and winds lazily through farmland and quiet wooded areas. Once in Brodhead, I hop on my bike and head back to the put-in via the Sugar River State Bike Trail, which is just a block or two away. (Remember to bring $5 along for the trail fee.) The distance back to the put-in is about six miles on a basically flat and well-tended trail. It’s great! About the time you want to stretch your legs, the paddling portion is over and the biking begins!

Frozen treats bookend this trip! There is an ice cream shop at the put-in AND a drive-through custard spot at the take-out — just a block or two past the entrance to the bike trail. And, if you are willing to detour through Monticello, M&M Café on Main Street has excellent pie. You can have your ice cream and pie, too!

Ellison Bay

Joseph A. Shapiro, Director of Administration & Operations, Foley & Lardner LLP

Before last summer I’d never heard of a “folk school.” I did not know who Jens Jensen was and had never set foot in Door County. I’d heard it was like Cape Cod, where I spent many happy vacations in Provincetown, so this was a likely destination.

I decided to try a structured vacation; one where I might take a course or pursue some new learning experience, while leaving myself time to relax. It didn’t take much time to find The Clearing, described by founder Jens Jensen (a noted Danish-born landscape architect, who designed many of Chicago’s parks) as a place “to clear away all debris of overstuffed learning steeped in form and tradition and get to the source of all wisdom… the soil.”

Since 1935, The Clearing has been run as a residential folk school, where people come for a week at a time to take an art or nature course, appreciate the amazingly beautiful setting in the woods, on the edge of the water; enjoy well prepared meals and spend time meeting the other participants, in a quiet retreat where cell phones, computers and televisions are not part of your life.

In many ways, this is a distinctly un-gay (but never anti-gay) place. I was, after all, the only openly gay member of the group of fifty participants. Still I found it to be an environment that attracts creative, sensitive, gentle people who are open-minded and enthusiastic about sharing their lives with others—and learning about yours.

North Freedom

Tamim Sifri, DDS, Smart Dental, LLC

Dr. Evermor’s Forevertron is a randomly cool place to visit. It’s a great side trip if you are heading to Devil’s Lake or even the Dells.

New Glarus

Scott J. Smith, Marketing Director, Purple Door Production

Founded by Swiss immigrants in 1845, New Glarus is still referred to as “America’s little Switzerland.” The village and town, however, are so much more than chalets, lederhosen and cheese fondue—although you can certainly find all of that in abundance. At its heart, New Glarus is a progressive, open-minded and artistic bedroom community of Madison with a distinctive flair all its own. And it’s the home of the New Glarus Brewing Company, makers of Spotted Cow.

Visitors should absolutely take a tour of the brewery. It’s fun, educational, and even a bit snarky. After the tour, have a couple of pints at a local tavern or restaurant. For a true step back in time, visit Puempel’s (pronounced “pimples”) on 6th Avenue. Steeped in history, this classic is no-frills yet innocently elegant in its reverence for Swiss culture. The walls feature 100-year old fresco paintings and the ceiling is a patchwork of dollar bills. Try to get a buck to stick; it’s more challenging than you might think.

The Glarner Stube on 1st Street is an absolute must. For 17 years, owners Debbie and Gary have welcomed locals and tourists alike, and the food and atmosphere has made fans of some famous faces including Senator Russ Feingold and Terry O’Quinn (John Locke from “Lost”) among others. Unofficially dubbed New Glarus’ only gay bar/restaurant, “The Stube” features eight New Glarus Brewery beers on tap, a singing deer, the Midwest’s largest urinal and decadent and delicious Swiss-style meals.

If you’ve had enough of the Swiss thing, check out Flannery’s on 2nd Street. Somewhere between a sports bar, Irish pub and good ol’ supper club, Flannery’s is famous for their Old Fashioneds. Owners Mike and Ruth serve up tasty American food, great conversation and enough brown booze to power the State Capitol well into the next decade. What’s not to love?

Peninsula State Park

W. Earle Smith, Artistic Director, Madison Ballet

Peninsula State Park is one of my favorite places to camp. The bluffs and hills are great for a hike or picnic. And when I’m in a lazy mood, I’ll either nap on the beach with an occasional swim or just sit with a fishing pole. It doesn’t get much better than that! In the evenings, if I’m not in the mood to cook, it’s a quick trip to the entrance to State Peninsula and a great summer meal at Digger’s Wood-Fired Pizza Grill–wood-fired pizza with a homemade, hand tossed crust. I’m usually stuffed after the pizza, but I somehow manage one of their homemade desserts.

For a little evening diversion I will head to the American Folklore Theater, located inside the park. This quaint outdoor amphitheater produces original musical comedies mid-June through August. The shows are hilarious and there is nothing like watching a show under the stars.

Lake Geneva

Natasha Vora, Indocara, Founder & Owner

It’s beautiful in Lake Geneva all year around. There are plen-ty of great hotels to choose from and outdoor activities to enjoy. It feels like a European destination, only it’s a much shorter distance to get there!  Great shopping at locally owned stores and good restaurants line up the center area of town. It makes for a fun-filled day with endless options for entertainment. French Country Inn is nestled in the woods with rooms and a dining room overlooking the lake which makes for a quaint and wonderful meal. Another beautiful hotel is the old playboy mansion Grand Geneva Resort and Spa, where the décor inside is old and worth visiting.

The downtown area has a mix of eateries and retail, and everything is pedestrian-friendly.