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July 15, 2014 | 12:08 PM
LYONS — It’s still something of a hidden gem, but White River County Park is now officially a part of the Walworth County park system.

About 160 people turned up for the dedication of the 196-acre park on Thursday.

The park is at the intersection of Sheridan Springs and Short roads. Even as Dave Bretl, the Walworth County administrator, gave his opening remarks and introduced speakers, canoeists and kayakers could be seen paddling their way down the White River, which cuts through the former farm land.

One of the speakers was Duane Clark, the former owner.

Clark thanked everyone who supported creation of the park. In previous interviews, Clark had said that he could have had a hefty payday had he sold the land to a developer.

He said he could have had a mansion in the hills. But the land isn’t for development, he said.

“It’s just too damn beautiful.”

Clark’s property was bought by the county for $1.91 million. About $1 million of that was provided by the DNR through the department’s stewardship program.

As a condition of the DNR grant, the county will also allow hunting, trapping and fishing on the property.

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However, those activities will be strictly controlled.

Only those who have permits issued by the county will be allowed to hunt, fish or trap on the property, according to Bretl.

And the number of hunters allowed on the land at any one time will be limited, he said.

The county has installed a larger parking lot, added restrooms and is maintaining the trails that cross through the park. Picnic tables already dot the park around the old dairy barn that dates back to the 1930s.

Kevin Brunner, the county’s director of central services, said the county has already installed a restroom facility and has worked on maintaining the trails.

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Brunner said the county is also going to install benches, picnic tables and canoe/kayak racks in the future.

Land that is now in crops will eventually be restored to native prairie.

The property also has two other structures, what appears to be a carriage house that Clark used as a workshop, and a house.

For now, the county is considering turning the barn into a welcome center for the park, according to Nancy Russell, county board chairwoman and a strong supporter of White River park.

Russell said the county’s park plan calls for four parks, one in each corner of the county.

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White River County Park is now the third park on that list.

Natureland Park is in the town of Richmond W8338 Territorial Road.

The other Price Park is on Hodunk Road, town of Lafayette.

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