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Supervisors express concerns over price

WALWORTH COUNTY MAY purchase agricultural land in the town of Lyons and turn it into a park. The rolling acres of crop land are visible from Sheridan Springs road, but beyond that is a wooded area with more than five miles of existing trails. The White River also meanders through the property.


February 26, 2013 | 01:14 PM
ELKHORN — In a tough economy, some county board supervisors can't imagine spending about $2 million on a new park, even if the state is paying for half of it.

"I'm looking at it as parks are a luxury, and I don't think we're economically in the spot to being adding luxury to the county right now," Supervisor Richard Brandl said.

Earlier this month, the County Board approved spending $5,000 with an option to purchase a piece of property for $1.91 million in the town of Lyons. The property, which sits at the intersection of Sheridan Springs and Short roads, may turn into the fourth county-owned park. The board approved the option to purchase on a 6-4 vote.

Supervisors Tim Brellenthin, Jerry Grant, Daniel Kilkenny, Joe Schaefer, David Weber and County Board Chairwoman Nancy Russell voted in favor of the park. Brandl, Kenneth Monroe, Carl Redenius and Rick Stacey voted against it. Supervisor Tim Schiefelbein was absent.

"I voted against not so much the park but probably the price," Monroe said. "At the time the gentleman was asking for quite a bit of money for it, and he made the statement that he wanted it strictly sold to the county for park land use."

Duane Clark owns the 195 acres, which is split between about 70 percent agriculture land and 30 percent woodlands. Clark said it also features about 9,000 feet of frontage on the White River.

"It is a very nice piece of property," Monroe said. "There are some questions that I had, and if you are going to buy something you should negotiate a little."

Opposition to the park plan

For both Monroe and Brandl, the price tag is their biggest concern.

Brandl is also concerned that the county is overpaying.

"We are basically buying farm land, and farm land around my area is going for $6,500 and $7,200 an acre," Brandl said. "Rick Stacey said (farmland in the) East Troy area is $8,000 or less an acre and here we are offering to pay roughly $10,000 an acre."

If the price was lower, Brandl said, he would look at the purchase of more park land in a different light. The county is also applying for a stewardship grant with the DNR. The 50 percent matching grant would guarantee the land stay a park forever.

"No matter how you spin it, we are still spending about a $1 million of taxpayer money," Brandl said.

What would the park be used for?

To apply for the stewardship grant, the proposed park must have five uses: trails (for hiking), trapping, fishing, hunting and cross-country skiing.

Last week Kevin Brunner, Walworth County's director of central services, said he could also envision kayaking and canoeing launch areas on the site.

Clark has also developed about five miles of walking trails.

"Nature did most of it," Clark said. "We just enlarged it."

Motorists who travel down Sheridan Springs Road can see the rolling acres of agriculture land from the roadside, but last week Russell said the beauty of the land lies beyond the agriculture.

"You really can't tell from the road what the property looks like. You have to get in and see the trails," she 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."

Clark said since plans to sell the land have been presented to the county, he has had many guests visit the property to see it.

"Everyone is falling in love with it," he said.

What's next

On March 18 the public will have a chance to voice their opinions about purchasing the park. An informational hearing is set for between 6 to 8 p.m. During that time, the financing of the park and its potential uses will be discussed.

"We are requesting that there be a public hearing on it, and I'm glad the board decided to have a public hearing. Let the people come in and speak their minds, for or against it," Monroe said.

One of the questions Brandl is hoping to have answered during the hearing is the cost of annual maintenance.

"I'd like to see some estimates on that. I think they are going to have them for the open house in March," he said.

Although Monroe voted against the option to purchase the land, he said he could change his opinion on whether the county should buy it. "My opinion could change, depending on the public," Monroe said.


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