Building Bridges (or Buses) to Owl Creek

Photo from the Capital Times, 2011October 13th marked my third visit out to the Owl Creek / Great Gray neighborhood. My quest this time was different. I was not attending a Parent-Teacher Conference or advocating to recall a governor. This time, I was out in the neighborhood, not to talk, but to listen. I was genuinely interested in the tale that they had to tell. I cautiously approached Great Gray Drive, as I knew there would be children playing in the streets ready to greet me upon arrival.

The neighborhood is on the edge of Madison, very close to the border of McFarland. It appears to be its own island, as there are no community services out in the area. It contains two streets that contain the majority of its residents: Great Gray Drive and Horned Owl Drive. A block away are the streets of Owl Creek Drive and Eagle Summit Court.

The neighborhood was initially envisioned in 2005 by the Nelson brothers. Its location is isolated from the rest of the city and sits among the wetlands. The Nelson brothers’ original plans included 69 single-family houses, 15 duplexes, and four 4-unit apartment buildings. However, after the neighborhood’s planning approval in June of 2005, the housing market took a turn for the worse. The properties had been sold to a variety of builders, but many began walking away. This left the Nelsons with 50 vacant lots and was one of the reasons that Great Gray Drive and Horned Owl Drive became Section 8 Housing.

The new, spacious duplexes and homes are one of the first things residents of Great Gray and Horned Owl Drive point to as a perk for living in this isolated neighborhood.  The neighborhood contains rows of houses and duplexes, some four unit-buildings, and many, many empty lots. The empty lots are often neglected and as a result are overgrown. This gives a rugged feel to the terrain of this neighborhood and it limits the amount of space that there is for the neighborhood to call its own. It is also the reason my neighborhood “greeters” are playing in the streets on my arrival. There is simply no place else to play.  Residents quickly point out that there is plenty of space out here to make this a great place to raise kids. There is a lot of open land that could be used for gardens, parks, and playing fields. Many would like to see a basketball court and a community center.

The city put in a small structure at the end of Horned Owl Drive, but it is too small to accommodate the over 100 children that call this neighborhood their home. The structure is small. It contains a slide and two swings that are clearly meant for very young kids. It was built among a small, forested area with no room to play. When asked about this “park,” residents roll their eyes and shake their heads. They tell me to go look at it carefully and decide for myself whether or not this is a park. I take their recommendation and then join the people shaking their heads. I am told stories about how the older children will walk over three miles to use the equipment at La Follette High School or other area parks.

Perhaps most alarming to me, is just how isolated the Owl Creek residents are. As a teacher at Sennett Middle School, I know that kids living in this area often opt out of after school clubs and activities. If they don’t get on the school bus, there is no other way for them to get home. The bus service does not go out to Owl Creek Drive, the closest it comes is the Park and Ride, located along a busy highway. The high school age kids also grumble, because they are unable to get a job or visit friends. One resident explains to me that “it is like the city created our neighborhood and then just forgot about us way out here.”  They are an island.

But, there is hope. The city is now talking about changing its bus routes and expanding a route to reach Owl Creek Drive. The city seems to be pinning a $.25 increase on Madison residents for this change. The two do not need to go hand in hand. There are other funding solutions. This is a problem that should have been thought through years ago when the neighborhood was first created. Increasing bus fares in the name of this neighborhood is not only inaccurate, it is unjust.

Now is the time to support these Madison residents; they have lived in isolation long enough. I think about the eager children who greeted me in the streets and on the sidewalks. One girl even took me by the hand and urged, “Come with me, I’ll show you where my mom is. She’s over talking to the neighbors.” These children and their families deserve to be reconnected with the city. Help build a bus route and create a bridge to the residents of Owl Creek.


Important Update (10/21): Two supporting budget amendments will be discussed at the Board of Estimates meeting on Monday, October 22nd at 4:30 p.m. Budget Amendment 24 would pay for the route without a fare increase. Budget Amendment 27 would expedite the process, so that the route change would happen by June, 2013. Please come to the meeting and speak in favor of these amendments.

Upcoming Meetings to Speak out for Owl Creek / Great Gray

  • Board of Estimates Mon 10/22/12, 4:30 PM, Madison Municipal Bldg 215 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. Rm 260
  • Metro Transit: Wed 11/07/12, 6:00 PM, City County Building 210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. Room 201
  • City Council Tue 11/06/12, 5:30 PM City-County Building 210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. Room 201 (Date for Budget Deliberations)

Send a message to the City Alders supporting this busing change at

Submit comments to You can also write a letter and send it to: Metro Transit Public Hearing Comments, 1245 E. Washington Ave., Suite 201, Madison WI 53703 or email your opinion to

Related Articles

Proposed Bus Fare Increase Would Benefit Troubled Neighborhood

On the Fringe: Isolated Owl Creek Neighborhood Tests City, Residents



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One Response to Building Bridges (or Buses) to Owl Creek

  1. Cody says:

    This is a great article and look into Owl Creek. I live in nearby Liberty Place and started an outreach group working with the city to see what we can do as neighbors to help. I am an educator at a middle school in Sun Prairie and working with children is something I take a great deal passion in. I have folks from the non-profits working with Owl Creek, the city councilwoman as well as people from housing coming to the table. I look forward to sharing this old but great blog article. Thank you for the work you are doing.

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