I grew up on the Southwest side of Madison so I watched Elver Park take shape starting in the late 1970s and have spent a lot of time there over the years. When I return to Madison for a family visit, I almost always include a trip to the park for one reason or another . . . sledding, hiking, jogging.
There is a lot to do at Elver Park . . . summertime visitors may enjoy Frisbee golf, basketball and tennis courts. July 4 fireworks are an annual "happening". There are a number of soccer and softball fields. A "splash park" is in the plans and as of the time of this review, it is expected to open in late summer 2014. Wintertime visitors may enjoy the finest sledding hill in Madison, hockey and skating, and cross country skiing (included some trails that are lighted at night). Hiking is a year-round option through the varied terrain . . . flat lowlands and hills (from which you can see the Wisconsin State Capitol), pine and deciduous forests, meadows, ponds. Winter hikers should be considerate by not damaging the grooming of the cross country ski trails.
A little more detail on the sledding hill: it is delightful but can be dangerous, especially if the snow gets packed down and then there's either freezing rain or liquid rain that subsequently freezes, making the slope in essence a downhill ice skating rink. I am frankly (pleasantly) surprised that in our era of nanny government that they allow it. The sledding hill is theoretically open only dawn to dusk, but there is enough spillover light from the ice skating rinks that you can sled well into the evening. I recommend sledding when it is less crowded; that way if your sled twirls around you can enjoy going backwards without having to worry as much that you're going to hit somebody.
Though the park is wonderful, there are a few shortcomings which, if addressed, could serve to make this a world-class 5-star park.
* The park does not fully realize its aesthetic potential . . . there is very little in the way of manicured grass or landscaping, and the ponds seem like they could be a more prominent part of the park experience.
* The playground is kind of lame.
* It is regrettable that the park is not more dog-friendly; you'd think Madison's largest park (227 acres) could incorporate an off-leash dog area.
* It is disappointing that the city does not clear snow from the paved trail that extends from the warming shelter to the old Gammon Road "stub"; a lot of people incorporate this stretch of trail into their jogging or bicycling routes, but it becomes unusable for such purposes when there is snowcover (where the ski trails cross this path, perhaps they could leave just enough snow to facilitate crossing it on skis).