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Touring what may become a county park



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MORE THAN 9,200 feet of White River frontage is one the appealing aspects of a property in the town of Lyons. The land is owned by Duane Clark and the county is considering buying it for $1.91 million.
March 05, 2013 | 02:17 PM
LYONS — Duane Clark's property features a meandering river, a spring-fed quarry and established trails.

He can describe his property to you, but he likes to let the land speak for itself.

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"Everyone who sees it falls in love with it," Clark said.

On Friday, a Regional News reporter toured the property with Clark and Kevin Brunner, Walworth County's director of central services.

Clark wants to sell the land to the countyfor $1.91 million, with the hope that it is turned into a public park. If the county board approves that deal, Brunner is the man who will oversee the acquisition of the land and the future plans for the park.

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A little history

For about 50 years, Clark has owned about 195 acres at the intersection of Sheridan Springs and Short roads. The land is about 70 percent farmland, and the rest of it is woodlands.

When Clark purchased the land, his father and uncle were critical of his investment. By their estimate there was better farmland with richer soil in Fond du Lac County, where Clark's father owned property.

Clark shrugged off his father's critique, as he never was interested in farming. He bought the property because of the woodlands, the White River and the wildlife. He bought it because of its proximity to Chicago and the possibilities that his property offered.

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Over the years, Clark has had large events on his land from camping to hunting. He said he allowed hunting on his land, but that ended as high-powered rifles became more prevalent, and he feared someone would get hurt or killed.

He said the spring-fed quarry, which sits on the southeast portion of the property, has also been used as a gathering ground for good times. When the Regional News reporter saw the quarry it was covered in snow, but the water has been described as pristine and Clark said the quarry is about 12 feet deep.

Many people who grew up in Lyons are already familiar with the land, Clark said, and he believes now is the time to open it to the public.

What is looks like

Only portions of Clark's property are visible from Sheridan Springs Road. The rolling farmland, an old cedar barn and silo augment the country scenery that many motorists are accustomed to seeing when traveling on Walworth County roadway .

However, from Clark's circle driveway, the view is no longer common. Just a short distance from his doorstep, the White River flows north toward his home, before winding to the east and back south. Clark, with the help of Mother Nature, has created more than five miles of trails, many of which are adjacent to the White River. The trails are ready for cross country skiing and hiking. Across from the White River the land rises to what Clark calls the second highest point in Walworth County.

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During the tour of the property, Brunner pointed out possible locations for picnic areas. Brunner also pointed some of the rare species of trees.

The property lines are complex. Clark owns land on both the north and south side of Sheridan Springs road and on both the east and west side of Short Road.

Future plans

The conceptual plans for the park include hiking trails, a canoe launch and a community garden. Plans also include areas for prairie/grassland restoration and areas for recreation.

For the county to purchase the property it would need to receive a matching stewardship grant from the DNR. Brunner has been told by DNR officials that Walworth County has a good chance of receiving the grant.

For a park to be eligible, it must include five uses: hiking, trapping, hunting, fishing and cross-country skiing. Clark's property can meet all those requirements.

Money matters?

County Board Supervisor Daniel Kilkenny, who supports the project, said the county has been setting aside $50,000 annually for park acquisition. The county has just under $300,000 saved for parkland.

To cover the remaining costs, the park acquisition fund would borrow the balance from the general fund. The $50,000 that would have normally been saved for park acquisition would return to the general fund until the balance is paid off, Kilkenny said.

Kilkenny said the annual $50,000 line item costs taxpayers about 4/10ths of a cent per $1,000 of assessed value. On a home assessed at $200,000, that is a tax impact of about 80 cents annually, Kilkenny said.

The park could also generate revenue because the county could lease the agriculture land and the home.

Who supports/opposes the purchase?

At the February county board meeting, supervisors, on a 5-4 vote, approved spending $5,000 for an option to purchase the property for $1.91 million.

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

When contacted, Brandl said he opposed the project because of the cost.

"No matter how you spin it, we are still spending about a million dollars of taxpayer money," Brandl said. Monroe also voted against it because of the price.

On Monday afternoon, Kilkenny pointed to the county's Regional Park and Open Space Plan for Southeastern Wisconsin, which was completed in 1977. That plan made recommendations on park acquisition.

The plan was revised in 2004 and recommended acquisition and development of two major county parks, one along Turtle Creek and the other along the White River.

Kilkenny said a survey done before the county's 2009 Smart Growth Plan showed 75 to 80 percent of the respondents supported actions that protected the woodlands, wetlands and park lands. Another 56 percent said they would support an increase in property taxes by $0.10 per $1,000 of assessed value to protect that land.

"What we currently assessed is one-twentieth of that," Kilkenny said.

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