Monona gets to work preserving San Damiano property

Updated: Jun. 19, 2021 at 6:22 PM CDT
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MONONA, Wis. (WMTV) - Dozens of volunteers got their hands dirty Saturday, beautifying a piece of Monona that’s rich in history.

San Damiano, located at 4123 Monona Drive, officially became public property this month. The city closed on the $8.6 million deal after nearly a year.

Now, the city is working with nonprofit Friends of San Damiano to shape the property’s future. The work began with a community clean-up on Saturday. Group organizers said nearly 80 volunteers signed up.

“We love Camp Monona,” volunteer Leda Kanellakou said. “That’s what we call it because it’s like summer camp all summer long and winter camp all winter long.”

“You watch nature, and it just allows you the peace to be with yourself and to think, be with your thoughts and be outside of the hustle and bustle of the city,” Andrew Kitslaar said.

While paving the path forward, community members also vowed not to lose sight of the past.

Kitslaar, who is also the president of the Friends of San Damiano, said, “We have a lot of developed land, and this is just one of the last pieces that is yet to be developed and yet to be touched. That’s why I think it’s important to protect and preserve all of it.”

The ten acres of property along Lake Monona’s shoreline were first home to indigenous groups, including ancestors of the Ho Chunk Nation, Kitslaar said. A home built in 1893, known as the Frank Allis House, sits on the property and has passed from family to family. Most recently, it was owned by the St. Norbert Abbey.

“Buying San Damiano has been something that people in the city have dreamt of for years,” Mayor Mary O’Connor said. “We just didn’t feel we could pass [the deal] up. We have nice parks, but we don’t have huge amounts of green space.”

O’Connor said she hopes a master planning process sometime late fall or winter will determine how best to use the green space. She also said the city is talking with members of the Ho Chunk Nation to get their take on the land’s history.

According to Kitslaar, other long-term projects are in store. They include an archeological survey of the site for artifacts or burial grounds.

The Friends of San Damiano says it will join the city in hosting a ribbon cutting ceremony on Thursday, June 24 at 2 p.m.

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