***This is the first in a series of articles featuring The Friends who comprise The Friends of Wisconsin State Parks. Guest author: Daniel Seurer
The Friends of Aztalan (Web site: http://www.aztalanfriends.org/ )is an active group dedicated to the promotion, upkeep, and enhancement of a unique Native American ceremonial and residential town established around 1050 A.D.
Public interest in working with this unique State Park began in the 1980s when shortfalls in the State's budget led the Wisconsin DNR to recommend closing the park. A Friends group was formed as a means of keeping the park open to the public and maintaining its status as a significant historical site. This early group worked closely with the Town of Aztalan to maintain the park and keep it open during the year the DNR chose not to operate the park. After the DNR found enough funding to operate the park, the group went into hibernation, only to be brought back to life in 1993. In that year, the Friends of Aztalan achieved its non-profit status and has been active ever since.
In 2014, the Friends of Aztalan counted a membership of around 100 individual organizations and individuals. Over half of the membership is involved in various activities of the Friends of Aztalan. The group is led by a Board of Directors consisting of 8 highly dedicated individuals who work hard in keeping the organization moving forward.
Over the years the Friends of Aztalan has been involved in a variety of educational, promotional, and fundraising activities.
The most important and successful activity for the Friends of Aztalan over the past several years involves fundraising efforts for the construction of a visitor’s center as outlined in the DNR's master plan for Aztalan State Park. Matching funds for all donations for this project are being provided by a generous patron, Elizabeth Parker of Lake Koshkonong, Wisconsin, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. A preliminary design of the visitor’s center is currently being created by our selected architect, Dimensions IV of Madison, Wisconsin.
As an interim step, until the visitor's center comes to fruition, the group purchased a large office trailer to serve as a temporary visitor's center that has been staffed by Friends of Aztalan State Park Volunteers since 2010.
In addition to efforts directed toward the construction of a visitor's center at Aztalan State Park, the Friends group and its core of volunteers have also been actively engaged in a variety of endeavors. These include:
- Publication of a quarterly newsletter
- Funding production of a video, Aztalan: National Historical Landmark, promoting the park by Wisconsin Public Television (now available on-line)
- Holding an annual membership banquet featuring noted guest speakers
- Funding electrical lines to the park shelter for use during special events and the temporary visitor's center
- Providing special tours for school children from schools throughout the state
- Giving presentations to school classrooms
- Providing special event programs which in the past have included:
- Solstice in the Park
- Native American dancers
- Native American programs for kids
- Native American weekend
- Artifact identification day
- Special lectures
- Aztalan Day, in conjunction with the Lake Mills/Aztalan Historical Society
- Funded flagpole memorial to late Park Manager, Tom Davies
- Promotion of Aztalan State park at special venues such as Indian Summer in Milwaukee and the Garden Expo in Madison
- Providing special presentations on Aztalan to groups throughout the state
- Funding printing for the Aztalan State Park walking tour
- Producing, acquiring, and selling 'gift shop' items that promote the park and raise funds, such as T-shirts, calendars, sweat shirts, hats, books, prints, posters and photographs
- Funding signage at the park regarding the water trails of the new Glacial Heritage area
For the most current information about the Friends of Aztalan and activities at Aztalan State Park, please check out our website and blog at: aztalanfriends.org
Aztalan State Park is the site of a ceremonial and residential Native American town established in 1050 A.D. This site has provided insights into ancient agriculture and gardening.
While people lived along the Crawfish River in Wisconsin's Jefferson County before 900 A.D., the Mississippians arrived at ancient Aztalan around 1050 AD. They established a hierarchal society that was culturally exotic for the area.
The Mississippian people built earthen pyramids used by the religious and ruling leaders. The largest Mississippian site is Cahokia, located near St. Louis. Aztalan has clear connections to Cahokia, the nature of which is the subject of recent investigations by archeologists from UW-Milwaukee and Michigan State University.
The Aztalan people built three earthen pyramids and a protective stockade complete with guard towers. Two of the pyramids and sections of the stockade have been reconstructed.