Dane County Parks and Henry Vilas Zoo Equity and Access Evaluation Complete

September 06, 2022
County Board Chair Patrick Miles, (608) 886-9167
County Board

Dane County is taking steps to make county parks and the zoo more welcoming to all residents by improving racial and social equity, and access to people of all abilities.


At the end of 2021, the Dane County Board of Supervisors contracted with Keen Independent Research and began an independent evaluation of equity and access at Dane County Parks and the Henry Vilas Zoo.


The goals of the evaluation included:

  1. Gaining a better understanding of the demographics of who is currently using Dane County Parks and Zoo and how they are using these places. 
  2. Gain a better understanding of who is not visiting Dane County Parks and Zoo and what the barriers are, or if there are other reasons why they are not visiting our Parks and Zoo.
  3. Provide specific recommendations to the County Board Office that will remove identified barriers to racial and social equity and access, including access to people of all abilities, at Dane County Parks and Henry Vilas Zoo, and strengthen racial and social equity and access to people of all abilities at Dane County Parks and Zoo facilities, lands, properties, and programming.

"The equity and access evaluation of Dane County Parks and the Henry Vilas Zoo is an important step to ensure the wonderful recreational opportunities that Dane County provides for residents can be enjoyed by every person. The recommendations the County Board has received from Keen Independent will help guide future improvements and continue to make equity and access central to the services we provide," said County Board Chair Patrick Miles.


As indicated in the report, Keen Independent collected and analyzed information through: focus groups and interviews with internal and external stakeholders; on-site surveys; public meetings; analyses of County policies, programs, and services; dedicated study website with a telephone hotline and email; targeted communications in multiple languages; literature review of industry best practices; and additional research. Keen obtained input from almost 600 community residents from the community surveys alone.


Study participants included representation from a wide array of organizations and people, with more than 30 internal stakeholders, and local partners that were part of an ad-hoc advisory group convened by Keen.


The nine recommendations based on the results of the evaluation include:

  1. Embed top-down equity plan
  2. Offer information and signage in multiple languages
  3. Improve experience for persons with disabilities
  4. Strengthen inclusion for LGBTQIA+ community
  5. Expand local partnerships
  6. Strengthen family and youth programming
  7. Embrace unique dietary choices
  8. Celebrate diversity
  9. Develop mechanisms to gather and respond to feedback and measure outcomes


"Henry Vilas Zoo strives to be an accessible place for everyone to enjoy. We pride ourselves on being a free zoo and are always looking at ways to strengthen our relationship with this amazing community. We look forward to working with the County to advance some of the recommendations in this report and expand our local partnerships." Ronda Schwetz, Executive Zoo Director.


"I am grateful for the opportunity to have our existing work affirmed and to receive professional guidance on how to best continue our efforts.  We want everyone to feel welcome at Dane County Parks.  The Land & Water Resources Department and Dane County Parks are committed to doing the work necessary to make this happen," said Land and Water Resources Director, Laura Hicklin.


The report can be found on the Dane County Board of Supervisors website available here: https://board.countyofdane.com/documents/KeenIndependent-DaneCountyParksZooEvaluation-Final-08102022.pdf


The report will be presented to the Henry Vilas Zoo Commission and the Parks Commission in the coming weeks.

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