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Although UW Parking Lot 34 is not available to Preserve visitors during ordinary business hours without a permit, it is nonetheless located within the boundaries of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve.
The lot dates back to the 1940s, when automobiles began informally to park in the area immediately east of Tripp and Adams Residence Halls. In the decade following World War II, it was officially incorporated into the UW’s parking system, and had expanded to its current dimensions by the end of the 1950s.
Located at the base of Observatory Hill, Lot 34 is among the larger surface parking lots in this part of campus. It has an uneasy relationship to two key features of the Preserve. On the one hand, its eastern end is immediately adjacent to the Lakeshore Path. Walkers and bikers can easily see a row of bumpers above them especially during the winter months when foliage doesn’t screen the view. Even more important, Lot 34 lies square in the middle of the famed view of Lake Mendota from Observatory Drive, one of the signature vistas of the campus and indeed of Madison itself.
When proposals were circulated in the early years of the twenty-first century to replace the parking lot with a large new university building, advocates for the Preserve sought to prevent construction on this site to protect this glorious view for all time to come.
Happily, the UW Campus Master Plan completed in 2005 responded to these concerns by not only removing Lot 34 from the list of eligible construction sites on campus, but by proposing to eliminate the parking lot altogether when ramps are completed that will eliminate the need for surface parking in this area.
Lot 34 has already been added to the Lakeshore Nature Preserve in anticipation of the day when it will once again be restored to green space and managed to protect the view of Lake Mendota from above and the view of Observatory Hill from below. It is thus a kind of monument reminding us that the Lakeshore Nature Preserve exists not just to protect the wild plants and animals who make their homes here, but also the human experience of natural beauty that is such a defining feature of this campus and this city.