A somber, 67-year-old monument to the passenger pigeon high on a bluff overlooking the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers at Wyalusing State Park will be rededicated at a public ceremony Saturday, May 17.
The last passenger pigeon -- a now-extinct bird that once flew over Wisconsin in such numbers that their passage would darken the skies -- died in 1914. Habitat destruction and market hunting led to the demise of this species.
In 1945 a group of Wisconsin Society for Ornithology members decided to erect a public monument to the bird to help keep its memory alive in Wisconsin. They chose Wyalusing as the location because a century earlier passenger pigeons would have winged past the site by the millions on their way to and from nesting areas in central Wisconsin's oak woodlands.
It includes a bronze plaque featuring a passenger pigeon drawn by Wisconsin bird artist Owen Gromme and an inscription by A.W. Schorger, one of Wisconsin's best natural historians. Phil Sander, who was later inducted into the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame, designed the stone monument and Paul Lawrence, then superintendent of Wyalusing State Park, oversaw its construction. It was unveiled at the 1946 WSO convention with Aldo Leopold giving the dedication speech and was installed at the park at a dedication ceremony on May 11, 1947.
A major effort to restore the 67-year old monument was led by Stanley Temple, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology and senior fellow at the Aldo Leopold Foundation. The ceremony is linked to the observance of the centenary of the pigeon's extinction.
The rededication ceremony will be at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, May 17, and is being sponsored by the Friends of Wyalusing State Park and the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology. Temple, who retired recently from the Beers-Bascom Professor in Conservation position at the University of Wisconsin-Madison once held by Aldo Leopold, will be the keynote speaker.
Wyalusing State Park will be holding an open house day Saturday with free entrance to the park.
WSO will also be holding its 2014 convention in Prairie du Chien May 15-18. The convention will include a second ceremony beginning at 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 16, at The Barn Restaurant, 32800 County Road K, Prairie du Chien. WSO will present four of its annual Passenger Pigeon awards, and Bird City Wisconsin will salute Prairie du Chien, Ferryville and Darlington for their commitment to make their communities healthier for birds and people.
Being honored for their service to bird conservation and education are Bettie Harriman of Oshkosh, William Mueller of West Milwaukee, Greg Septon of Franklin and Chuck Sontag of Manitowoc.
On Saturday evening, the convention banquet will feature the premiere of the documentary by David Mrazek, "From Billions to None -- The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction."
Information on the convention, including a complete schedule and registration information, is available on the Wisconsin Society of Ornithology website wsobirds.org (exit DNR). For more information about Wyalusing State Park, search the DNR website dnr.wi.gov for "Wyalusing."