Walworth County Government Today: County parks offer nature nearby

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Dave Bretl | June 12, 2017

Before you finalize your summer vacation itinerary, don't overlook some of the great parks that we have right here in Walworth County. Walworth County government was a late-entrant when it came to the acquisition and development of parkland. When I first started here, Natureland was the only county-owned park. The pace of park development picked up over the years. Today, we have four of them as well as a multi-use trail that we maintain. If you want to enjoy nature this summer, without the long drive to the north woods, check out these Walworth County parks.

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, which 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 over 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 had originally 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 property, 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 over 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 three years ago and was purchased by the county with the help of a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Stewardship grant.

Veteran's Park. Although this land has been under county ownership since the 1800's, the four acres surrounding the county's Government Center was formally dedicated as a park in 2002.  The veteran's memorial was refurbished in 2009. In 2014, a bronze “battlefield cross” memorial, donated by area veterans, was dedicated to honor service men 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 non-profit 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.

One of these groups, Kettle Moraine Land Trust, recently announced that it will be hosting two educational seminars this summer. Both of these classes were offered last year and received great reviews. A “Wild Edibles” class will be held at Natureland Park at 11 a.m. on July 15. If you ever wanted to hand feed a monarch butterfly, plan on attending “Meet the Monarchs” which will be held at Price Park on August 19 from 11 a.m. to  2 p.m. A $5 donation is requested and you do need to pre-register for the classes at www.kmlandtrust.org.

Before you venture off to a county park or trail, check out the Walworth County 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 webpage 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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