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Friday, January 2, 2009

Lake County Spikes Park Plan

So much for Semiquincentennial Park....

Opposition from landowners and apparent supporters of the Kelo decision has killed a really good idea. The Lake County Commission was considering selling a piece of the old county poor farm to Game Fish & Parks to create a public access area on the southwest side of Lake Madison. Spectacular idea! On a lake already packed cheek by jowl with houses symbolic of our wealthy class's conspicuous consumption, a free public access area would be a welcome and appropriate use for land once dedicated to caring for the poor.

But no. Linda Hilde and a Lake Madison neighbor gave commissioners an earful at the Tuesday meeting. Commissioners responded by tabling the proposal indefinitely. Hilde and friend's reasons for opposing a new public access area:
  • GF&P already owns five pieces of land on Lake Madison. That's "quite a lot of access," says Hilde.
  • Instead of leasing the land to GF&P for a measly $500 a year, the county should plat the poor farm and sell it for more swanky houses. "Lakeshore property is (selling) for between $200,000 and $300,000 per 100 feet," Hilde said. "That's a lot of money to give away for fishing" [quotes from Elisa Sand, "County Tables Lake Access Agreement," Madison Daily Leader, 2008.12.31].
  • The county's first priority should be raising tax revenue.
  • The commission was acting "suddenly" and should wait until summer, when Lake Madison's seasonal residents would be around to give input.
  • The lease agreement leaves the door open for GF&P to develop the land for more than fishing.
As a Lake Herman resident who lives right next to a GF&P wildlife and public access area, complete with fishing dock and boat ramp, I have trouble understanding why residents would oppose a public improvement on their lake. One of the first destinations Madville Times Jr. learned to say was "boat ramp!" when we go walking. We go there to skip rocks, talk to the fishermen, and watch them load their boats. We can go walk in the trees and look for rabbits and deer and bluebirds. Why would we trade a small piece of shoreline where everyone can come relax and enjoy the lake for another clump of big fenced-in houses?

Oh yeah, money. Tax revenue. "Hilde said the job of a Lake County commissioner is to determine what makes the best business sense for the county, and giving away a valuable piece of property for public access doesn't make sense" [Sand].

I beg to differ. The job of a Lake County Commissioner is to protect and promote the general welfare. Sometimes that means promoting economic development. Sometimes that means passing on a chance to make money in favor of supporting a worthy public project.

Decades ago, my neighbor Gerry Lange owned the big stretch of land to my north. He platted and sold the land along County Road 41 for housing, but the majority of the land he handed to the state. There was already plenty of public access on Lake Herman—the state park, Territorial Road, much more proportionally than Lake Madison has now. By Hilde's fiscal reasoning, Lange did a great disservice to the county by taking his land off the tax rolls for fishing and boating. The city of Madison committed an even worse travesty when it gave the state the land that became Lake Herman State Park. That land could have had so many houses generating so much tax revenue. Now what are we stuck with? Trees. Fishing spots. Boat ramps. Walking trails. Picnic tables. Campsites.

It's a short step from Hilde's reasoning to the Kelo decision, in which five Supreme Court justices said the county commission could kick me off my land and hand it to a developer who promises to build something that will generate more tax revenue than my measly $100,000 house. Forgive me if I find the reasoning of Hilde and the Court faulty.

Sure, there's already "quite a lot of access" to Lake Madison. There's also already quite a lot more private land with big expensive houses swelling the tax rolls (and sitting idle for a majority of the year). Let's invest in the future by looking beyond the dollars and making the poor farm a park all of us can enjoy all year round.


  1. I wonder if they tabled this to give a chance for people to give them some feedback and allow the new commissioners to make the decision. It's a chance for people to speak up.

  2. Cory:

    Be VERY CAREFUL on this one.

    Linda Hilde is a very nice lady, BUT I have seen her in a highly motivated manner and you would lose.

  3. Commissioners Kent Peterson, Ron Jorgenson and Craig Johannsen have been shirking their duties these past couple months so the new commissioners can make the decisions. So much for experienced decision-making.

    Linda vs Cory? Even though Linda is getting some age on her, It would be a great debate and I'd give 2-1 odds to Linda Hilde.

  4. Money talks and the rest of us lose out to the Elite yet again.

    So, I wonder when the county commission will decide to seize Lake Herman State Park and Walkers Point so they can turn them into Lots for lake homes. That way they will be doing there job according to L. Hilde and increasing tax revenues.
    That is what it is all about protecting the rich from us common folk.

  5. Anon 10:03: I'm not looking for a fight. I'm just saying Linda and the commission are mostly wrong on this issue.

    Anon 11:05: 2 to 1? Cool. I hate being the favorite (not that I have any experience with that...).

    EC, on seizing Walkers Point: exactly right.

  6. This is just the sort of project I would hope the LAIC (Lake Area Improvement Corporation) would want to facilitate. Promote the community's strengths, not entirely dissimilar to the Chautauqua, or at least with similar goals. How could there be a better way to take the poor farm and remake it for the whole community. jh

  7. Brother Cory:

    Did you read tonight's issue of the Leader? Brother Jim wants us all to come to the next county commission meeting so our voices may be heard before they kill the idea for good anyway.

  8. Cory, you mentioned that "decades ago" Gerry Lange donated or sold land to GFP. Remember that decades ago, that land was not worth near as much as it is today, nor was there much demand. At $3000 a running foot, Lake Madison frontage is at a premium, and this year will be the cheapest time to buy. Next year it will go up again. The point Mrs. Hilde is trying to make is that you don't want to give away a $300,000 building lot for $500 a year to GFP. That is good fiscal thinking. We still have county roads to repair and need cash. If we truly need another lake access, why not have the county highway department create it, keep county control and leave GFP out of the mix. You don't want GFP in control of valuable county property.

  9. Jim Thompson's letter to the Editor is flawed.

    Anyone who watches GFP and how they maintain their non-paying areas like Stratton's access, Johnson's Point and the area west of Marr's Beach of Hwy 19 knows how poorly those areas are maintained. If there is no revenue from camping fees there is no maintenance. No mowing, no trash pick-up, no grading of the roads.

    GFP has an amazing way of making promises they never keep based on their budget and mood.

    Jim Thompson's letter may have had more credibility if he had not tried to be so hurtful by labeling the residents as "rich". At least they own their own homes and don't leach off their parents.

    What's next? A new rifle range at the poor farm, Jim?

  10. Anon 10:40: I disagree on your distinction based the higher demand and market price for land now. Gerry's a foresightful guy: he could see that land would go up in value. By your argument, since there is such demand for lakeshore property now, the county should demand that GF&P return the land it has so the county can sell it and develop it. Same with the Black Hills: all that public forest land stands in the way of lots of private development that would make Pennington, Custer, et al. the richest counties in the state.

    Even in tight budget times, there are some things that are more important than money... aren't there?

    Anon 7:20: I live next to some of that "poorly" maintained GF&P land. Looking out my window each morning at that open, public land brings me much more pleasure than would looking at a big cluster of Lake Madison McMansions neatly manicured by (yes) rich people.

  11. There is so much public money that goes in to maintaining our lakes. We should have as much public access as possible. The USDA plans and pays for filter strips, proposed dam, etc. not to benefit just the few that can now afford lake property. There may be a point that the GFP may not be the best to control it. Why not make it a county park?

  12. Intimidation! Linda Hilde has done good things for Lake Madison but--she can be very intimidating. This is because money does control the govrnment/city/county boards and comissioners. The park at Lake Madison would be a wonderful thing for all to enjoy. The beauty of nature cannot have a prce put on it. It would be a park where everyone could stop and eat, enjoy the fishing and just enjoy the beauty of the area.

    Maybe the citizens of Lake County should have a vote on this issue. Afer all our taxes have paid for this property all along.

    --Lake Herman resident

  13. Cory's right. Some things (most things!) are more important than money.

    A park would be great for all
    visitors and residents.
    Developing the land could produce much tax revenue, but a park will create something much more meaningful and enjoyable.

  14. K Ericsson is right. Many have even suggested the area designated for a TIF housing development in Madison near Silver Creek should have been a family park area rather than a housing development. Madison needs a park in that area, maybe a soccer field, basketball hoops, etc. I'd rather see that in my backyard.


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