After a nearly two month long process, we want to formally welcome you to the results of the 1st Annual Best of the River Valley reader poll for the Spring Green area!
Drawing inspiration from cities like Eau Claire, Madison and Milwaukee, we were excited to facilitate this reader poll that showcases the community’s voice in sharing the best of what our area has to offer to our community and those who visit it.
Let’s get into the nitty gritty. Only the date range of June 2020 – May 2021 was considered for the poll. Exceptions were given to COVID-cancelled events that are annual and due to return. Residents could only vote once, popular write-ins were added to the poll, most of the categories were limited to the Valley (Arena, Lone Rock, Plain and Spring Green), with some exceptions. The greater area was included, more or less 15-20 miles around the Valley. There were questions that specifically stated they were regional, and others where all of Sauk, Iowa and Richland counties were included where otherwise the answers would be over-limiting.
Over nearly two months, through weeks of nominations and almost a month of polls being open, hundreds of you voted on your community favorites for 2021. There were upsets, there were certainties and there were ties. Online exclusive editorial content including editors’ picks, honorable mentions and more are available exclusively online below.
Best of the River Valley is not only a complement to existing guides that help community members and newcomers alike navigate our area, but also a place to share where you believe the area is headed, what the area needs to focus on, and also a place to brag about your business or your favorite Old Fashioned, with a healthy competitive spirit.
So we created categories and questions we felt represented a good cross section of the community, its services and where it’s going. We hope it is thought-provoking and leads to not only celebration, but also new experiences and constructive conversations about what’s next for the community.
Throughout the Best of the River Valley process we talked to dozens of businesses and residents, and a familiar sentiment kept coming up: if you know, you know.
So that’s our 2021 Best of the River Valley theme: if you know, you know. However, it’s not our goal to reinforce that, it’s our goal to break those walls down — hence the wrecking ball above. We can’t count the amount of times even many locals hadn’t heard of the cool stuff (it’s a technical term), events, things and places that exist in the Valley, but those that know, know.
But it’s time to share and we can’t thank all those that did enough! That sharing of cool stuff, events, things and places is why we’ll be listing not only the winners, but all of the nominations here, it’s why we’re doing some editors’ picks and honorable mentions — so everyone can go out and try new things — and maybe you’ll have a brand new favorite next year?
Ultimately, this is YOUR poll, YOU decided the winners.
And here they are —
OUTDOORS & LEISURE
Best Body of Water For Recreation
We’re called the Valley for a reason, and what better body of water to win than the body of water that created the Valley? As COVID drove people to the outdoors in record numbers in recent memory, people are looking for more and better ways to engage with our protected Lower Wisconsin Riverway. For now, we suggest a local canoe or kayak rental. The Valley has several great options.
Does anyone have a name for the nominee that got third place? That hill narrowly edged out Tom Limmex’s hill. Also, does Tom mind? Does Tom know everyone is using his hill? Someone tell him so he can start selling hot cocoa.
Address: Hudson Road, Beckman Road, Mazomanie, WI 53560
Other nominees: Tom Limmex’s hill, Bear Vale, Hunter Cabin
Best Trail – Hiking/Biking
We may have made a faux pas by combining hiking and biking, but it led to some great nominations. Check ahead at each to see if they allow bikes or only foot traffic. Perhaps next year we’ll split them into two categories? But you really can’t beat the climb up to the bluffs at the Spring Green Preserve.
As the pandemic wanes, the great music scene is coming out in full force in the Spring Green area. It’s no surprise that the Thursday evening Local Nights are the winner here. Held at the Post House Garden and organized and fed by The Shed, they’re a must attend every warm season.
Cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID, the Spring Green Arts and Crafts fair is a local favorite with enduring popularity that brings thousands to downtown Spring Green the last week of June each year. Narrowly missing the top three was Spring Green Country Christmas. We’re all missing the sleigh rides, community fires and s’mores. Christmas in July anyone?
Not everyone sees the intersection of agriculture, art and fermentation — enter the Wormfarm Institute, a nonprofit organization in Sauk County, Wisconsin “working to build a sustainable future for agriculture and the arts by fostering links between people and the land.” In 2021 Plain is playing host to a Wormfarm Institute “Test Plot” as research for the 2022 Farm/Art DTour. Wormfarm says: “This experimentation leads to new discoveries, builds community friendships, and sparks conviviality & joy.”
A tough year for the arts, musicals still prevailed. After largely cancelling their regular season, APT came back fall and winter with Zoom productions and play readings ahead of a summer 2021 season. River Valley High School was able to hold their annual musical, wearing masks, performing for a limited audience and offering a recording for purchase.
When envisioning this question, 4PeteSake’s Day in the Park wasn’t originally what we had in mind, but what better event is there than one that brings the community together for a good cause? The Spring Green area and Sauk, Richland and Iowa counties have a depth of musical events, but no other event brings the area together quite like 4PeteSake.
Though technically out of our immediate coverage area, but still within Richland County, everything the Driftless Music Gardens in Yuba has been doing, and has done recently to provide music safely during a pandemic to those that seek it, is nothing short of amazing. Standing out is the Bonfire Music & Arts Festival, which very narrowly missed placing.
Despite healthy competition from E.LEE’s ‘Center Stage’ on the side of the Gard Theater downtown, the collaborative Nick Ringelstetter/various artists live art/graffiti/Atomic7 mural on the side of the Spring Green General Store wasn’t a surprise win. Now can anyone tell us if there’s a shorter name for it? Spring Green General Store, any nicknames for the wall? We hear there’s going to be competition from Slowpoke Lounge next year on a jazz mural!
Best Local Visual Artist (Illustration/Painting/Sculpture, etc.)
One of the most nominated questions, the amount of choices didn’t even begin to list all of the many amazing artists in the area. This question may grow and change as the years go on to showcase the various mediums of art. For now, the field was huge and Nick Ringelstetter, of Atomic 7 Studio, came out on top.
Another huge field, many of these artists are regulars at The Shed’s Local Night at the Post House Garden and on the River Stage at Shifflets Bar & Riverside Grille at the Wisconsin Riverside Resort and more.
A big upset in the Valley as extended-area restaurant Bob’s Bitchin’ BBQ in Dodgeville takes the top spot with their deep fried cheese curds. Take from this win what you will, shot across the bow duly noted Dodgeville. Let’s hope for a win from the Valley proper next year.
For a new restaurant, Lone Rock Bistro and Taproom is pulling punches and has quite the following already. Lone Rock Bistro appetizer choices alone received nearly 31% of the vote for Best Appetizer. We’ve had a chance to sample many of the appetizers from Lone Rock Bistro and the crab rangoon stands out among the others.
Butternut Road was fast to become a community and regional favorite and surprises no one with this much deserved win. Notable for Brewhaha Roaster’s number three spot: based on out most current understanding, both Butternut and The Paper Crane at Arcadia Books use Brewhaha coffee! So does Mazo Grind! So that certainly gives Brewhaha an honorable mention. Now the real question is, where can we get a cup of coffee after 5pm in Spring Green?!
Another extended area upset, with Jose’s Authentic Mexican Restaurant’s food truck out of Baraboo taking the win. Jose’s is a welcome visiting staple to the area, always sure to work with local businesses and positively engage with the community. Honorable mention goes to new pop-up Rub-in the Bonez BBQ, started by a group of friends wanting to share their passion for BBQ and smoked meats.
Not a surprise here, Spotted Cow is a statewide favorite. With Lake Louie now brewed in Verona, perhaps the Valley will be home to some local brews again to challenge Spotted Cow by this time next year?
Another no surprise here, there were new pop-ups and new endeavors, but other than a scattering, Lone Rock Bistro was the only verifiably new restaurant in the Valley in a year shaped by COVID. But what an entry into the Valley it has been, becoming a fast favorite and lending itself to the revitalization of downtown Lone Rock. Anyone down for a Woods, Bistro, Keg & Kettle bar crawl?
It’s shaping up to be a busy year in upscale pizza dining, with at least a couple new coming ready to challenge these staples in the next year. But for now, Tuesday nights are for Pizza on 14 at Herbs, Spices & More, Friday nights are for White School Collective pizza parties and The Woods is for every night in between! (And Site 12 at Tower Hill is for when you want to make your own pizza in the woods.)
Are we allowed to call it Shitty Barn? Why not. The Shitty Barn Sessions are something special. Gone last year due to COVID, Shitty Barn is ready to make a comeback in 2021. Known for it’s intimate setting with good music and good drinks, all we can say is, “see you at the Barn!”
Arguably the most important question, Arthur’s comes out on top with a Wisconsin favorite. Not to be ignored is Slowpoke’s craft old fashioned, which could be a solid contender in the future. The real question is, brandy or whisky? (There is a wrong answer, this is Wisconsin.)
Arthur’s comes roaring back with Best Steak, beating out even the Arena VFW Steak feed known to fill Willow Street up and down with eager patrons from around the Valley. “Excalibur?” “No, I take it medium rare.”
No surprise here, Wollersheim is a regional favorite. The real question, is hard cider a wine? Federal law says yes, state law says yes if it’s boozy and science says basically yes. Brix Cider, other than delightful, what are you? So we’ll say yes, you are a wine in this poll. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
“Tourist attraction” doesn’t adequately sum up the amazing American Players Theatre (APT) and what they mean to this community. APT stands in a field all their own. In lieu of their own category, they earn this well-deserved award.
Some people really liked this question and some people thought it felt out of place. We stand by it. At a time when it feels like decisions are made so far away, we need to remember that not only can we get involved but that we also can hold our elected officials accountable to our interests and that we should also celebrate the very best of our elected officials as well, from local on up. We hope this award stands as a reminder and as incentive for our local elected officials.
Have a good picture of a local sporting a mullet? We’ll put it here, seriously. Mullets have exploded in the past year. No word yet on if this encompasses the ladies’ shag/wolf cuts as well, but we’d like to think it does. Also, sorry Lone Rock, we still love your sign <3
The River Valley School Fair is something special. At one point we heard that it’s one of only two left in the state, Ithaca being the other. It someone wants to fact check that, let us know the results. In the meantime we’ll just enjoy what we have here.
Other nominees: Creativity, Theater, Excellent Education for Kids, Scenic drives, Drinking
Thing the Valley is Worst At
The Valley is a complicated place. It’s growing and changing and we believe that it can keep its heart and its rural character while still striving for something more. It’s interesting to note how many residents voted for ‘Kindness’ as being the Thing The Valley Is Best At and then also voted for ‘Being Divided’ or ‘Being Welcoming’ — again, the Valley is a complicated place and we hope questions like this create thought provoking conversation starters for constructive conversations that need to happen to move forward.
Other nominees: Thinking globally/non-insularly outside the area, Accepting and Promoting Diversity, Convenience, The name game, Being painfully divided
Biggest Thing We Should Make Happen Soon
Is Kwik Trip really a surprising answer? We love our local gas stations too of course. We’ve heard everything from a Kwik Trip in Spring Green where Carlito’s was on 14 and 60 to in Arena at HWY 14 and Coon Rock. Now who’s gonna make it happen?
Affordable housing is huge, there are tons of young professionals and young families that would love to live in the area but can’t. Kudos to the developers that realize this and are moving forward with affordable apartments and lots.
An inter-municipal parks and rec program? Say less. This is a great idea and the collaboration that it would involve between municipalities is welcome. Also, when are we getting our community ice rink?
Worth mentioning is how high commuter rail was on the list and how close it was to placing. As lovely as a train into Spring Green to see APT or Taliesin would be, until we create more jobs in the area, many still commute. Commuter rail would be a welcome way to commute along the HWY 14 corridor and into Madison.
Let’s create something lovely in the red building by the railroad tracks! Seriously. We have so many ideas for the building and the sweat equity to make it happen. We’re looking for partners and creative people that know coffee, know theatre, know grab and go food, know art, know yoga, know consignment, know co-working, know carpentry and remodeling and more. We’re looking for partners to make something lovely happen. Let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org
Other nominees: Commuter rail, Inter-municipality art board, Creating something lovely in the red building by the railroad tracks (Lexington Street, Spring Green), Street fair or block party, Grocery co-op, Getting rid of beagle breeding, Bike path between spring Green and Lone Rock