Walworth County Government Today: County expands parks without extensive maintenance

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Dave Bretl | July 11, 2016

I had a Euell Gibbons flashback in the middle of our last parks committee meeting. For readers under the age of 50, Gibbons was the naturalist who shocked television audiences by announcing that some parts of pine trees and Grape Nuts cereal were actually edible. The flashback was prompted by the announcement of an upcoming program, Wild Edibles, that will be held in Walworth County's Natureland Park next month. That program is just one example of the collaboration between the county and a number of nonprofit organizations that promote awareness of county parks and save tax dollars.

The Walworth County Board has proceeded cautiously when it comes to park acquisition and development. When I first started here, Natureland was the only county-owned park. The pace of park development has picked up over the years. Today, we have four of them as well as a multiuse trail that we maintain. They include:

• Natureland Park. Located in the town of Richmond on Territorial Road, Natureland is comprised of 122 acres of woods and wetlands. Four well-marked trails wind through the Kettle Moraine terrain. For those of us who can't tell a pine cone from a cattail, printed guides are available that describe the vegetation and geological features found along the trail. Natureland is great for small children. The trails are short enough so it is possible to get back to the car relatively quickly in the event one or more hikers get tired. The trail guide numbers different attractions along each route, turning the hike into a scavenger hunt of sorts for youngsters who may want more activity than just enjoying the fresh air and sun.

• Price Park Conservancy. First opened in 2002, Price Park is located on Hodunk Road in the town of Lafayette. The park is comprised of more than 100 acres and consists of several walking trails and a meadow area. Like Natureland's trail guide, the one prepared for Price Park is very informative, emphasizing the early use of the land and vegetation by its Native American inhabitants. A dog run was added to the park in 2014.

• White River State Trail. It took a motion to reconsider by the county board to eventually get this trail off the ground. The board originally had rejected a proposal to turn this old railroad right of way into a biking, hiking and snowmobile trail back in 2002. The project was not without controversy. Adjacent property owners worried about the impact of trail users on their properties and board members were concerned about the cost of developing and maintaining the trail. The project was eventually given the green light and today a crushed limestone trail extends from Elkhorn to Burlington. The trail is ideal for both hiking and biking. There are a number of parking lots on the trail, and mile markers located along the route make navigation easy.

• White River County Park. The county's newest park features more than 9,000 feet of frontage on the White River. Located at 6503 Sheridan Springs Road in the town of Lyons, the 195-acre park features a pond, hiking trails and spectacular views of the river. White River County Park was dedicated two years ago and was purchased by the county with the help of a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources stewardship grant.

• Veterans Park. Although this land has been under county ownership since the 1800s, the four acres surrounding the county's government center was formally dedicated as a park in 2002. The veterans memorial was refurbished in 2009. In 2014, a bronze “battlefield cross” memorial, donated by area veterans, was dedicated to honor servicemen and women who served in the Middle East.

One of the arguments that was historically made against park acquisition was the cost of maintaining them. This is a legitimate concern given the fact that our county supports a number of programs not found in most other counties. To minimize maintenance cost, Walworth County has left much of its parkland in its natural state. It is less costly to maintain hiking trails than swimming pools or golf courses. Our county also receives help from nonprofit groups including the Geneva Lake Conservancy, Friends of the White River Park and the Kettle Moraine Land Trust. Generous volunteers from organizations like these donate money and labor to improve our parks. The class that I mentioned at the beginning of this column is an example of this partnership.

This summer the Kettle Moraine Land Trust is hosting an educational series titled “Nature Nourishes the Body and Soul.” The wild edibles class will be held at Natureland Park at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 16. If you ever wanted to hand feed a monarch butterfly, plan on attending a class by that name from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 13, at Price Park. The classes are free with the donation of a nonperishable food item that is being collected for Walworth County food pantries.

You do need to register for the classes at www.kmlandtrust.org or by calling 262- 949-7211.

Before you venture off to a county park or trail, check out the public works department's website at www.co.walworth.wi.us. Complete directions on how to get to each park are available as well as hours of operation, rules and information on reserving picnic shelters if you are thinking of a larger get-together. Maps and trail guides can be downloaded and printed to make your visit more enjoyable. For anyone feeling philanthropic, there is also information on the web page regarding how to make donations to improve or expand the county's park system.

 Dave Bretl is the Walworth County administrator. Contact him at 262-741-4357 or visit www.co.walworth.wi.us.

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