Last week, upon opposition from Linda Hilde and another Lake Madison resident, the old commission tabled indefinitely a proposed deal that would allow Game Fish and Parks to create a public access area at the old poor farm on the southwest shore of Lake Madison, just off Highway 19. The new commission (Bohl, Chris Giles, and Roger Hagemann took their oaths this morning) quickly took it off the table to give Madison's Jim Thompson and other citizens a chance to voice their thoughts about the Game Fish and Parks plan to install a fishing dock and an outhouse of some sort. There weren't quite the 50 concerned citizens the Leader reported might come, but every seat in the commission room was filled, and latecomers had to stand.
Nearly every resident who spoke up (including yours truly) spoke in favor of creating more public access on Lake Madison. Encouragingly, the commissioners who spoke up seemed to share that sentiment, most particularly Commissioner Bohl, who said unequivocally that "certain things supersede finance" and that increased public recreation opportunities can draw people to Madison as much as housing and jobs.
Whew—looks like I voted for the right Republican this fall.
Here's a sampling of the interesting comments from the half-hour the commission dedicated to the recreation area question:
* * *Commission chair Bert Verhey opened this portion of the meeting by calling both Jim Thompson and Linda Hilde to sit at the big table to address the commission. No blows were exchanged (see, folks? this doesn't have to be personal).
Verhey started by offering a conciliatory note to Mrs. Hilde: he said he understood that the main concern brought up last week had been the absence of many Lake Madison seasonal residents who might not be here now to express their views. Verhey emphasized before anyone spoke that the commission was not going to vote today on any public access plan but would plan a public meeting in April on the topic when more Lake Madison snowbirds would be back to participate.
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Hilde knocked away that particular gesture, saying what the news coverage last week made pretty clear, that her primary concern was the tax base. Check the minutes, Bert.
* * *In his opening remarks, Verhey also addressed his concerns that the deal as discussed with GF&P would give the state too much control over the land. Verhey voiced his opposition to giving GF&P a perpetual easement, ;ikening it to state "dictatorship." Oh my. It's a fishing area, not martial law.
* * *Verhey did challenge the notion that the county faces hard economic times. He said county government is not "cash-strapped" and "can fund this thing on its own." It's nice to hear such fiscal optimism (none of which Linda Hilde was buying: she warned of hard times ahead that we can't even imagine), but I'm still scratching my head on this one: if GF&P is offering to do the improvements and pay the county for the privilege of doing so, why would we even talk about funding it out of the county coffers? When GF&P offers money, take it!
* * *If I read the audience correctly, they didn't really care whether the county or GF&P or Hugo Chavez controls the land, as long as it's opened up for public recreation. Rod Goeman did remind the commission of a vote several years ago in which the county rejected an offer from GF&P to turn ownership of the Johnson's Point road over to the county and provide state funding for continued maintenance. Goeman said that rejection stemmed from a mistrust of GF&P expressed by the commissioners. Goeman suggested that if that mistrust lingers, the commission should focus on creating a recreation area through county resources.
I'm still wondering where this mistrust of GF&P comes from. I've lived next door to GF&P land on Lake Herman for 30 years, and the only time they've rubbed me the wrong way was when they wouldn't let me build a shorter driveway that connected directly to their access road. Otherwise, they manage the land out here just fine.
* * *Jim Thompson offered little in the way of verbal fireworks. He said he's fine with the idea of county control of the land, especially if that means GF&P can direct more resources to other access areas like Stratton's on the north shore. Thompson also said he trusted the commission to negotiate a good contract if they do work with GF&P. (With ken Meyer watching, I'm sure the contract will be solid.)
Thompson did offer one poke by proxy at Hilde: Thompson read a letter from Jim Casanova, who wrote that he would have attended the meeting if he weren't in the hospital (get better, Mr. Casanova!). Casanova wrote to urge the commissioners to support sportsmen and not to listen to Linda Hilde. Casanova's exhortation drew chuckles from the crowd.
* * *Thompson and Hilde engaged in some disagreement about how many people fish. Thompson said lots of people fish. Hilde said not a lot fish. Before that could descend into a rather silly and unevidenced back-and-forth, John Hess spoke up to note that even though he's not a fisherman, he can see the public benefit in having another spot on Lake Madison open to public access. His sentiment was echoed by some old-timers who said they wouldn't be around much longer (boy, January does bring out our pessimism around here) but that they wanted the county to preserve something nice for their kids and grandkids.
* * *After I rambled for a bit on the merits of establishing a public access area now to perhaps set the stage for reviving John Goeman's and DeWayne Mork's Bicentennial Park idea (see: I'm not the only big dreamer around here), Linda Hilde noted that folks had talked about big plans for the poor farm before (like a golf course!) but those plans always failed. Folks expected the county to pay for it, and taxpayers wouldn't foot that bill. Hilde reminded the commissioners that their primary function is to preserve and develop a stable tax base...
...at which point Dan Bohl said to Linda Hilde three words we don't hear often enough from our local politicians: "I totally disagree." Bohl said that sometimes we have to "sacrifice a little bit" for the sake of protecting our natural resources. How's that for straight talk?
* * *Bohl gave the best quotes, but the other commissioners had a few things to say. Commissioner Giles expressed his support for a no-fee public access area. (That's two for sure! One more, and we've got it!) He agreed that the county has an obligation to preserve public resources, although he acknolwedged that if things get tight, the county might need to leave the door open for developing the land. Giles also noted that the county isn't in the business of running parks and might do well to work with GF&P on this project. Commissioner Pederson did ask if a contract with GF&P could include provisions for liquidation of the property. States Attorney Ken Meyer said sure. Pederson then said the issue still needs more study. Unless I missed something, Commissioner Hagemann remained silent on this issue.
* * *Mark Kreutzfeldt* rose from the audience to say he could see both arguments, but he noted that when he went door-to-door raising money to build the Field of Dreams on the south side of town, not one person in this community told him no. Mark said this community will get behind a good project. I just about reached back and handed him the first $20 for the fund drive... but we'll wait to see what happens.
* * *Lake Herman sent its contingent of radical troublemakers to the meeting. I've mentioned my comments; Charlie Stoneback rose to express his strong support for increasing public access around our lakes. Our neighbor and District 8 Representative Gerry Lange was there too, though though he was satisfied to soak in everyone else's comments (maybe that should have been my headline: "Lange Remains Silent" ;-) ).
* * *So in the end, no action, but some good public input. We have a pretty clear promise from Chairman Verhey to dedicate a full public meeting to this issue in April, which beats the pants off tabling the issue indefinitely. So sportsmen, for now, enjoy the ice fishing. Lake Madison residents, call your snowbird friends.
And while we wait for that April meeting, maybe some local entrepreneurs would like to revisit the Bicentennial Park plan and start passing the hat?
*I didn't catch the name at the meeting, but a couple of eager readers filled in my blanks. Thanks!