Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Remove Images

Supporters call land a jewel

by Rob Ireland

March 21, 2013

ELKHORN — Supporters called it a jewel that needs protection, an investment into the future and an upgrade to the county's lacking park system.

Opponents said there is already enough parkland in Walworth County, they said they cringed at a reduction in the tax base and were critical of the cost of public land acquisition.

The county is considering purchasing 195 acres of land at the intersection of Sheridan Springs and Short roads. The land includes nearly 9,200 feet of frontage on the White River.

On Monday night, in a standing-room only county boardroom, the public had its chance to comment on a possible park acquisition in the town of Lyons.

If purchased, the county would turn the land into a public park. The property already has about five miles of established hiking trails and a quarry. The land is about 70 percent agriculture and 30 percent woodlands.

The county spent $5,000 to lease the land and has an option to buy for its assessed value of $1.91 million. The county also would apply for a state stewardship grant that would pay for half the acquisition costs.

County Board supervisors didn't speak during the meeting, but the park acquisition is expected to appear on the board's April agenda.

Public comments

More than 20 people spoke directly in favor of the county purchasing the park, four people spoke in direct opposition to the purchase. Two more people said they were undecided but raised concerns.

Charles Colman, the chairman of the Geneva Lake Conservancy, spoke in favor of the park and said it is "a spectacular piece of property and it is perfect for a park."

"Walworth County has dramatically less park land than surrounding counties," he added.

Walworth County resident Ralph Williams, who opposes the project, said there are already lots of recreational areas in the county including the White River trail and the Shore Path in Lake Geneva. He also said people can walk and hike on rural county roads.

"I really truly feel this would be a wasteful expenditure of taxpayer dollars," Williams said.

Thomas Kincaid, a local architect and land planner who supports the land acquisition, said he believes a new community should include at least 50 percent green space.

"Open space is truly the measure of quality in a new community," Kincaid said.

Town of Richmond Chairman Wayne Redenius said there are a number of homes in foreclosure in the county, and taxpayers are struggling. Although he said there is a value to parkland, he questioned buying it during the tough economic times.

"It is a great area and you are putting a very high value on farmland," Redenius said.

Redenius also said county parks also attract undesirable activities, including underage drinking.

Mariette Nowak, a member of the county's park commission, said the county is park-deficient.

Nowak said Waukesha County has about 20 acres of parkland for every 1,000 people in the county. Walworth County has about two acres of parkland for every 1,000 people, she said.

A town of Lyons resident raised concerns about having the property removed from the municipalities tax base.

Lyons residents experienced a dramatic increase in their taxes after re-evaluation of condo-tels in The Timber Ridge Lodge and levy increases by both the Lake Geneva Elementary and the Badger High School districts.

Before the meeting ended, County Board Chairwoman Nancy Russell said the taxes on the property for the 2011 tax year, which are payable in 2012, was $4,870. The land is zoned agriculture and is taxed at a considerably lower rate than residential property.

Gary Dunham, a Walworth resident and former Lake Geneva alderman, responded to criticisms that the county was overpaying for the park.

Several people said the county was paying about $10,000 an acre for the land and farmland typically sells for between $6,000 and $8,000 an acre.

However, Dunham said when the barn and other aspects are factored into the value of the land, he said the county is paying about $8,000 acre.

About the park

The land is owned by Duane Clark. Only portions of his property are visible from Sheridan Springs Road. The rolling farmland, an old cedar barn and silo match the country scenery that many motorists are accustomed to seeing when traveling on Walworth County roadways.

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. Many of the trails 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.

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.

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.

Kevin Brunner, director of Central Services in Walworth County, 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.