SUNFLOWERS DAYS

Rows and rows of sunflowers in bloom during Sunflower Days at Pope Farm Conservancy in Verona.

PHOTO BY MICHELLE STOCKER

The sunflowers at Pope Farm Conservancy have become a victim of their own success.

The Friends of Pope Farm Conscervancy announced it’s cancelling its popular Sunflower Days this year because of overwhelming crowds. The town of Middleton conservation group cited "safety concerns" in making the decision.

Attendance has seen exponential growth. The conservancy said that last year’s Sunflower Days drew more than 92,000 people during the nine-day event in mid-August, which gave visitors the opportunity to stroll among more than half a million towering blooms.

Just three years ago the conservancy projected only 10,000 visitors.

The group said accommodation of 90,000 visitors this year would require off-site parking. That means people would have to walk along roads without sidewalks or marked shoulders and cross traffic-heavy Old Sauk Road to get to the event.

“This would create a potential safety issue for thousands of people,” the group said.

The stunning 9-acre sunflower field is one of the most popular attractions at the 105-acre conservancy, which has six prairie restoration projects and seven crops planted for educational purposes. Located at 7440 W. Old Sauk Road, the property offers eight miles of walking trails and picnic sites.

“We have great hopes to organize a FOPFC Sunflower Days in 2019,” the group's website reads. “In the meantime, the Friends will be taking this opportunity to reevaluate our current limitations and research ways to safely accommodate all persons wanting to see the sunflowers, including the possibility of a shuttle service.”

The Art Pope family donated the land, which sits atop three recessional moraines, to the town of Middleton nearly 20 years ago with the stipulation that it wouldn’t be developed. The town created a master plan to turn the land into an educational project that is a destination for school field trips and families. The conservancy has been open to the public since 2006.

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Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.