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Know Your Commissioner: Caryl Terrell

Know Your Commissioner: Caryl Terrell

Caryl Terrell’s 13 years as a CARPC Commissioner are part of a lifetime of service in land use, planning, and environmentalism. Learn more about the passion, knowledge, and experience Commissioner Terrell brings to CARPC, including her role in establishing many of the programs and policies that still shape statewide environmental protection today.

Caryl Terrell was first appointed to the Capital Area Regional Planning Commission by then-County Executive Kathleen Falk in March of 2010. By then, she had already been tracking the work of CARPC and its predecessor, the Dane County Regional Planning Commission, out of a general interest in regional planning. Thirteen years later, she is still fascinated by the way regional planning integrates multiple areas and transcends municipal boundaries.

Commissioner Terrell’s interest in regional planning was born out of her previous educational and work experiences. After growing up in many different cities across the US, Caryl greatly enjoyed the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree in economics from Oberlin College in Ohio. From there, she intended to pursue a career in international economic development, but found herself drawn into local transportation, farmland preservation, and environmental issues during what was supposed to be “just a summer in Madison.”

The magic of being in the capital city of a state rapidly asserting itself as a progressive leader during the era when Earth Day was founded proved too exciting to resist (she still hasn’t left). As she became established in Madison, Caryl’s focus shifted from international affairs to coordinating Wisconsin’s burgeoning natural resource protection and land use planning movements with its growing population, economy, and education system.

Commissioner Trivia: Growing up, Caryl’s father played viola in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Commissioner Terrell expanded her educational background in economics by completing master’s programs in both public policy and administration and urban and rural planning at UW-Madison, including additional business coursework. To help state agencies understand the implications of new landmark federal legislation like the National Environmental Policy Act and Clean Water Act, Caryl took a job in the Wisconsin Department of Administration’s planning department.

At DOA, Commissioner Terrell helped establish the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program, which still works cooperatively with government agencies and non-profits to manage the ecological, economic, and aesthetic assets of the Great Lakes coastal areas today. Following the passage of the Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act, Caryl served as statewide WEPA coordinator. This put her in the pivotal role of staffing the governor’s environmental policy council as state government took a new approach to planning and integrating statewide issues. The simultaneous blossoming of state and federal laws created an exciting atmosphere as each agency determined its role in implementing them. Caryl found it especially rewarding to be able to move forward on issues she was passionate about in partnership with representatives from all areas of the state.

Once her role at DOA ended, Caryl continued her work through a different channel, founding a land use, economic development, and law consulting firm with friends. She also developed an extremely successful educational outreach program with the Sierra Club that provided materials and information on environmental issues to Wisconsin students. This eventually grew into a full-time role when Caryl became the Sierra Club’s first staff member, ultimately serving as the organization’s Executive Director for over 30 years.

On top of her relevant interests and background, Caryl’s experience with other committees and organizations has given her the tools to understand and support CARPC’s work. Serving on the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District board for over 20 years, Caryl has witnessed what it takes to move very long-term projects forward, even when it can take a long time to see results. In addition to patience, working on water quality issues requires an understanding of how systems interrelate, the need to balance competing interests, and the importance of partnerships. Commissioner Terrell has also been active in the League of Women Voters, including lobbying the legislature on development issues and partnering with 1,000 Friends of Wisconsin on land use issues.

Commissioner Trivia: As one of the first three homes in Dane County with residential solar installations, Commissioner Terrell’s house was regularly featured on a tour organized by UW Extension!

Her work with CARPC has meant a lot to Commissioner Terrell, and she has enjoyed watching its mission evolve to include greater integration of land use with other areas like transportation, equity, climate change, and ag preservation. Caryl values the opportunity to provide a local perspective to the Wisconsin DNR’s water quality decisions. She particularly appreciates CARPC’s increased emphasis on collaboration and communication between units of government, non-profits, and other stakeholders.

Caryl credits former Executive Chairperson Larry Palm for laying the groundwork to build relationships, work cooperatively, and demonstrate CARPC’s value to municipalities. In her view, these relationships are key to encouraging a regional perspective among municipalities and helping neighboring communities work with rather than against one another. In the future, she hopes CARPC can expand its FUDA process as a forum for communities to talk through desired development in their areas and amplify the voices of rural communities.

In retirement, Caryl remains very focused on the many issues she has worked on throughout her career, including farmland preservation, equity, water quality, and environmental preservation. She often reflects on the historical significance of our current actions and aims to keep the big picture in mind to achieve a balance between growth and preservation. In her free time, Caryl enjoys gardening, supporting solar and wind energy, and spending time with her husband.