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February 19, 2013 | 03:10 PMELKHORN — It could be mistaken for a postcard. The rolling acres and old cedar barn at the intersection of Sheridan Springs and Short roads is the quintessential image of agriculture in Walworth County.
Beyond the farmhouse, silo and agriculture land lies a wooded area where the White River meanders through trees and hiking trails.
"You really can't tell from the road what the property looks like. You have to get in and see the trails," County Board Supervisor Nancy Russell said. "There is quarry that is filled with water and it is just beautiful. One of the trails runs along side (the quarry) so you can look down into the water. It is just very, very unusual and beautiful."
A property that Russell describes as "absolutely wonderful" may soon become a county-owned park. The owner of the land, Duane Clark, hopes to sell it to the county for $1.91 million.
Kevin Brunner, Walworth County's Director of Central Services, described the property as 195 acres, which is about 70 percent agriculture and 30 percent woodlands. Clark said there is about 9,000 feet of frontage on both sides of the White River. Clark has also already developed about five miles of trails, Brunner said.
The property also is on both sides of Sheridan Springs Road.
Russell acknowledges that the property's price tag may be too much for some residents in Walworth County to accept, but she believes buying the land is the right decision.
"There is never a good time to do these things," Russell said. "If the economy was really hot, as it was a few years ago when developers were looking for property and individuals were looking for this type of land, we may not have this type of opportunity."
The county's cost for the property could be cut in half with a matching stewardship grant from the state.
Russell said the county wouldn't purchase the property without the matching grant.
Brunner said that application is due in May to the DNR, and the county will know by midsummer whether it will be awarded the grant.
"We are pretty optimistic about the grant because our county has not received a lot of stewardship funding in the past, we have received some funding, but it is really minimal compared to other counties," Brunner said.
"From the DNR folks we have talked to we have received a good response that this would be a good candidate for funding."
On Feb. 12, the Walworth County Board met in closed session to discuss purchasing the park. On a 6-4 vote, the board approved spending $5,000 to have a six-month option to buy the property at its appraised value of $1.91 million.
Supervisors Tim Brellenthin, Jerry Grant, Daniel Kilkenny, Joe Schaefer, David Weber and Russell voted in favor of the park. Supervisors Richard Brandl, Kenneth Monroe, Carl Redenius and Rick Stacey voted against it. Supervisor Tim Schiefelbein was absent.
Clark accepted the county's offer on Feb. 18, and it extends until mid-August, Brunner said.
On March 18, from 6 to 8 p.m., the county is set to host an informational meeting where the public will have a chance to voice their opinions and ask questions. During the forum, the financing of the park and potential uses will be discussed.
Brunner said to qualify for the stewardship grant the state requires requires five specific uses for park: trails (for hiking), trapping, fishing, hunting and cross-country skiing.
The idea of cross-country skiing occurring close to hunting may sound alarming, but Brunner said the activities can coexist.
"You can limit hunting and trapping to certain seasons and certain dates during the year," Brunner said. "We would have to put together a master plan for the park."
With the property having access to both sides of the White River, Brunner said he could also envision kayaking and canoeing launch areas on the property.
Brunner said the old barn could turn into a nature center.
As for the financing, Russell said the county has park acquisition funds to help purchase the land. That fund isn't large enough to cover the entire cost of the property, but Russell said another county fund can be used to cover the balance.
Brunner said the county may also lease parts of the agriculture land to a farmer and could lease the barn and farmhouse. However, no decisions have been made, and the county may opt not to buy the park by mid-August.
Why another park?
The county has developed a park plan which recommends creating two new parks, one in the southeastern quadrant of the county and the other in the southwestern quadrant.
Currently, Walworth County only has three county-owned parks. Price Park is in the town of LaFayette, and Nature Land Park is near Whitewater Lake. The third park is located around the Government Center in Elkhorn.
"We are very park deficient compared to most counties," Brunner said. "I don't think we will ever have as many parks as a lot of the counties surrounding us."
Even when including state-operated parks in the area, Walworth County has less park land than other counties in the region, Brunner said.
Russell said she toured the property last summer, and was impressed with what it has to offer.
"Certainly there will be hiking and cross country skiing, and it will be a very-low impact park. It has a great deal of natural resources in there," Russell said.
Russell said the woods are of high-quality and so are the trails.
"There is a wonderful cedar barn near the entrance of the property, it is just ideal," she said.