Viewpoint: Writer responds to questions about Heal Creek
Thank you for expressing your concerns Mr. Gary. In response to your issues:
(1) The “$100,000” difference (perhaps more, perhaps less) between the City-Town and Hodag Sports Clubs’ proposals is not insignificant, but the article lacked the context of the remark. It should be fairly obvious this is not in regards to a household income. Let’s not muddy the waters. My point was that in the context of a $50 million county budget, in addition to millions in county board reserves, the sum was NOT as significant to the county as it is to, say, our town government or even the city government. To demand lesser local governments pay up to provide cover to the County over a bad investment is “robbing-peter-to-pay-paul”. There would be absolutely no appreciable public benefit for that deal. No tax refunds, no rebates, no secondary public works projects. The money goes back into the county’s general fund, with no direction. When compared against the relative economic and public benefits of the trails proposal to the broader community, that’s less than a wash ?– it’s a long term loss. This land was purchased for economic development. It should continue to serve that purpose. And as Vilas County has so powerfully demonstrated in recent years, the outdoor economy has the potential to serve as a significant economic engine for local communities. It’s long past time that Oneida County take the long view in its decision making.
(2) Let me be clear: there is no cost to taxpayers of “turning the clubhouse into a chalet.” Chalet is a marketing term. The clubhouse already exists. There is no additional cost to opening the doors to all families all year long. (Just as the Hodag Sports Club’s ranges are open year round.) This is a public space, and should be utilized as such. Revenue derived from “Additional winter recreational use” is a no-brainer, based upon inputs from tourism officials and analysts familiar with the outdoor economy of northern Wisconsin. According to the Chamber, travelers spent over $185 million dollars in Oneida County in 2013 alone. That doesn’t even include local resident spending. Why would Oneida County want to exempt the Rhinelander area from that sector of the economy?
(3) This is not about a “few ski trails.” You could not be more wrong. Because in fact the ski trails already exist. No part of this project is about building more ski trails. The Northwoods Nordic Trails system has existed for 25 years, maintained by volunteer organizations, independent of any costs to you as a taxpayer but with all the benefits of a public space – and you can ski them for free! Our proposal seeks to extend those trails into year round usage and bring back old trails to expand the reach beyond skiers: hikers, birders, snowshoers, bikers, dog walkers, and hunters and fishermen too! I am disappointed to hear your views as to the viability of Rhinelander as a tourist destination – your cynicism does our community no favors in attracting new families to want to stay here. Who would want to move to a place where its citizens write letters to the community newspaper denigrating it? I think and work regionally, and consider tourism in the “Northwoods” context. We are all in the same boat up here – it is well past time to end silly parochial distinctions of “our town vs. your town.” No one else cares about old Minocqua vs. Rhinelander fighting. They will go to whereever the amenities are, just as they go wherever the fishing’s good. Our proposal is first and foremost about developing a community asset for the broadest possible usage. I urge you to read it.
(4) “Going through neighboring private lands.” The ski trails have utilized the property of Dr. Lee Swank for nearly 25 years. You can google up the Northwoods Golf Course and use the maps feature to see them for yourself. The fact that neighboring land owners share the vision is what makes this such a remarkable once-in-a-generation opportunity for Rhinelander. Yes, the agreements are in place. You reference Minocqua Winter Park. I invite you to search the plat maps of Minocqua Winter Park itself – a combination of town, state, private, and land trust properties are needed to pull off that amazing facility. In fact it is a model for what we have assembled. Minocqua Winter Park received over 12,000 visitors last year, and may top 15,000 this year alone. And apart from a handful of off-season trail runs, it is exclusively a winter destination, still 25 minutes away from the Town of Minocqua itself. How shortsighted is to think that there is no room in our regional economy for Rhinelander to flourish, with this potential trails system just five minutes west of the city, along the peak traffic route for all visitors to see, and in the heart of our manufacturing and industrial corridor.
(5) Private property included in our proposal will remain in private hands, on the tax rolls. Only the acreage purchased by the city and town from the county, approximately 190 acres, will be “off” the rolls. For reference, the DNR lists the current tax rate on MFL Open property at $2.14 an acre. I believe the net payments to the Town of Crescent based on all the MFL acreage in the Town was around $300 last year — it’s about the worst deal going for a town in terms of economic development, if it isn’t being used for any secondary purpose. It is absolutely negligible when compared to the benefits of increased property values and making our community more attractive to new residents, let alone increased spending at local establishments from visitors. The single most important thing I can do as a supervisor in terms of economic development is to try to make our community attractive to new families to want to move here and enjoy our natural resources. And since the Heal Creek land isn’t suitable for commercial development, this is absolutely the next best thing.
I invite you to read our proposal and supporting narrative in its full context:
I hope that you and other Hodag Sports Club members are able to attend our open house this Saturday, Feb. 7 at the Northwoods Trails to learn more. I am a shooting and hunting enthusiast myself, and am excited about the birding potential across some of these lands. Come tour the creek area and see for yourself. We will be there all day Saturday, with demo equipment available from 10 am – 4 pm.
You are welcome to contact me directly at any time to share your thoughts or concerns. Jfknutson@gmail.com.
Thank you for your consideration.