Award of Excellence Winner

Project Name:  Dash - Park
Location:  Onalaska, Wisconsin
Design Team:  SmithGroup

Dash-Park is downtown Onalaska’s new living room. Philanthropically funded by Barbara and David Skogen, owners of the Festival Foods grocery chain, the park is a gift for the community in which they were born and raised and continue to reside. As Barb has said, “The community’s been awfully kind to us, supporting our grocery business. We want to give back and show our appreciation.”

The name Dash-Park is borrowed from a poem (“The Dash” by Linda Ellis) which has long inspired the park’s patrons. A call to living life to the fullest, the poem’s “dash” is the punctuation between one’s dates of birth and death: “What matters most is how we live and love / and how we spend our dash.” For Dave and Barb, this sentiment is their motivation and a call to action; it has inspired both their business ethic of servant leadership, and their support for the Onalaska community.

For a half-block city park in a small Wisconsin community, Dash-Park is unique for its combination of urban park programming, contextual connections, and place-specific character. The park is comprised of three primary spaces – a plaza at Main Street, an amphitheater that capitalizes on views of the Mississippi and Black Rivers, and an upper lawn. These spaces are wrapped by extensive landscape beds whose combination and arrangement of plant species were inspired by the goat prairies of Wisconsin’s Driftless Area coulees.

The amphitheater focuses on a foreground stage and the river valley context beyond. Comprised of 60 precision cut limestone blocks, each weighting approximately 5,000 lbs, the amphitheater is both functional and sculptural. The area atop the amphitheater serves as a river overlook and is wrapped by a massive, undulating structure inspired by the flight path of a boomerang. As a symbol, the boomerang is integral to the park and to Festival Foods’ customer service ethic, known as the “Boomerang Principle”: “Every business decision we make is based on the question, ‘Will it bring the guest back?’”