A Wisconsin Idea win-win

At a sweeping bend of the Mississippi River, where the waterway widens and flows through shimmering Lake Pepin, tourists come to snarf slabs of homemade pie, stroll through artisan shops, and enjoy water sports.

This is northwest Wisconsin’s Pepin County, whose zigzag boundaries enclose 249 square miles, making it the state’s smallest county by land area. Home to only 7,265 people, it’s also one of the smallest by population. But every year, Pepin County draws gobs of tourists with its remarkable views of valleys and bluffs and the sweet, crusty allure served up at the renowned Stockholm Pie and General Store. Downriver, in the village of Pepin, fans of literature make pilgrimages to the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose Little House on the Prairie and other children’s books have entertained generations.

From Devil’s Corner to Durand, Porcupine to Stockholm, Pepin County is one of Wisconsin’s jewels, picturesque and charming. But no community is perfect. Underlying all those beguiling snippets of rural Dairyland life are perplexing problems and concerns.

Similar issues exist all around the state, but they aren’t going unnoticed or unaddressed. A UW–Madison program called the UniverCity Year is partnering with communities across Wisconsin to find solutions to knotty problems and bolster the quality of life for the state’s citizens. And students, faculty, and staff from CALS are helping to tackle those challenges by bringing research to bear on Main Street issues — in Pepin County and beyond.

“We make the Wisconsin Idea very practical and tangible,” says Gavin Luter, managing director for the UniverCity Year program. “We get people from the university working hand in hand with people at the local level to build their capacity to do good self-governance.”

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