Israel Haas was an enthusiastic and engaging executive director who championed Freedom Park in Prescott. Here he is showing approval for the Great River Road Visitor & Learning Center refresh. Photo courtesy of Freedom Park
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Freedom Park searching for new director

Haas to stay in Coulee River Trails role

PRESCOTT – Israel Haas may have left his role as Freedom Park’s executive director, but that doesn’t mean he’s leaving the community of Prescott in the dust.

Haas’ last day at Freedom Park and Great River Road Visitor & Learning Center, a role he held for more than three years, was Nov. 25. He has accepted a position as a project manager with United Health Group.

“I received an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Haas said. “It was a job that came looking for me. Unfortunately, I loved what was happening with Freedom Park and Coulee River Trails, but sometimes life throws opportunities your way that you have to take.”

Friends of Freedom Park Board Chair Jeff Ruehle is serving as the interim executive director until a replacement is found.

Haas made a big impact in three short years and the community made an impact on him.

“The people are just absolutely amazing,” Haas said. “We have a wonderful board, a very supportive community.”

Coulee River Trails

During his tenure, Haas got the ball rolling on his passion project, Coulee River Trails. CRT is a non-profit community group committed to developing and maintaining a regional trail system in the Prescott area.

“Coulee River Trails fit very well with where Freedom Park was going after we reconfigured and redefined our vision and mission,” Haas said. “After the pandemic, which brought changes all over the planet, we revisioned our perspective on where we wanted to head. We crafted new brands, a new log, a new mission and vision of where we were going as we built on the foundation of the past.”

Haas and his family plan to continue their work with CRT as volunteers, which is moving forward without any change in plans, mission or goals.

“We have a very strong steering committee and partnerships with the city, National Park Service, etc.” Haas said. “I will be staying in Prescott and actively involved in leading Coulee River Trails and helping Prescott become an even better place to live. My passion for this trail project is unabated and I am 100% in.”

Their current project is creating winter trails at Magee Park, which is Zone 3 of the initiative. The group is actively pursuing trails in six zones that are currently owned by different groups/ people.

“Lots of different conversations are happening,” Haas said. “We are also pursuing the possible purchase of a large section of property in partnership with Landmark Conservancy. Lots is happening behind the scenes.”

Goats were brought into Magee Park to clear out buckthorn, which has helped the trails project progress. The community is invited to Coulee by Candlelight 5-8 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 22 at Magee Park, which will be lit with more than 500 luminaria along 1.3 miles of trails.

“We have our fingers crossed for a lot of fresh snow,” Haas said.

Accomplishments

Haas is also proud of the work in restoring the globally rare bluff prairie in the 3-acre Freedom Park. He said the “precious ecological habitat” project was spurred by a 2006 donation from Dorothy Ahlgren.

“It was a project that had repeated interest and effort but kept stalling out,” Haas said. “After 15 years, with the board and passionate volunteers, we rekindled that fire literally after we brought the goats in. The fire department performed the first ever prescribed burn on that bluff. I sure hope that project will continue. We gained a lot of ground in the three short years that I was at the helm as executive director.”

He also recounted the visitor center refresh project that came out of planning efforts during and after the pandemic.

“We needed some fresh use of the space to bring in more community involvement and open the space up for more activities and engagement programming,” Haas said. “The refresh came out of the revisioning process that the pandemic provoked. It’s in very good hands with a very gifted Jeff Reuhle as interim director. I’m very excited to see where they go next.”

To learn more about Freedom Park and its programming and how to get involved, visit freedomparkwi. org

January 17, 2023