Living on the Lake: A passion for parks
Oneida County citizens work to restore Town Line Lake Park
By Eileen Persike
Is it possible to return a neglected county park to its former glory days and rescue it from the auction block?
A group of Oneida County citizens is working to answer that question.
The Friends of Town Line Lake Park (FTLLP) formed over the past several months after members became aware last summer of the Oneida County Forestry, Land and Recreation Committee’s (FLRC) plans to sell a piece of Town Line Lake Park, located just minutes from downtown Rhinelander.
“Our story, which is really the story of this group of passionate people who just kind of came together and said, ‘hey this is an important thing,’ and we want to partner with the county and other local municipalities to help us save the park,” said FTLLP vice president Beth Follenweider. “We’re here, we’re doing that.”
“It hasn’t been maintained in four years; just to get it looking like a park again would be a great first step,” said FTLLP president David Walters. “There are leaves everywhere; the pine saplings are starting to take over. It’s just kind of a mess.”
Minutes from the January 2021 FLRC meeting show that selling Town Line Lake Park was in the discussion stages for years. In 2017 the committee was considering the purchase of 231 acres around Gillette and Wickham lakes in Enterprise township for $910,000. According to the minutes, one of the funding sources mentioned then was the sale of part of the Town Line Lake property, for which it could get $168,000. The park infrastructure had been “falling apart,” it was noted; the beach was overrun with weeds and the committee voted to cease maintenance of the park. The town of Crescent agreed to abandon the road going to the boat landing, but the county would keep the boat landing open to the public.
In a press release, the FTLLP indicated it doesn’t believe the county has the authority to sell the park because Wisconsin DNR procedures involving the County Forest Law Special Use have not been followed, however, “We do not intend to wait for the county to make this decision and for this process to work itself out. We want to get on with the business of using and improving our park.”
A change.org petition to stop the sale of Town Line Lake Park garnered nearly 1,700 signatures and increased attention on the lake known for crappies and for having clean, clear water. A community clean-up day was held May 1, the first of a series of planned events to make the park more user friendly.
Katie Hagen lives near Town Line Lake. Concerned part of the park would be sold to a developer, she pitched in with raking and leaf blowing Saturday.
“I want to save the park,” Hagen said. “We have enough homes and property for people to build on and this is such an amazing park that’s so under-utilized. I’d love to get out here more and make it more usable and accessible for other people.”
Though just a start, Walters said efforts to spruce up the park and hold events there show the county board there is a piece of the community that is invested in the park.
“It gives us a little more ammunition going forward – this is being used, this is a nice property,” he said. “You can’t just say it’s neglected and abandon it and contribute to the worsening of it and try to use that to justify trying to close down the park entirely.”
The Friends group is wasting no time creating an action plan and fundraising.
“One of the things we found was that it’s difficult for families to access, except by automobile,” said David Schmitz. “What we’re looking at is trying to do is connect the park, both to the north subdivision, which is in the town of Newbold, and south so people from Rhinelander can actually ride bikes to it and link it up with Hansen Lake.
“We have some preliminary approvals to work some easements – trying to finalize those, then look at engineering costs and then seek grants to develop those trails so it’s going along pretty well.”
Schmitz, who worked on making the Newbold bike path a reality, said doing the same for Town Line Lake Park will take two or three years, but would “greatly improve access to the park and people’s ability to use it.”
Creating a picnic area was the number one thing people responding to an informal online poll indicated they would like to see added to the park. The next most popular suggestions were to develop a nature walk, install a fishing pier, connect to existing walking and biking trails, bring back the beach and building a disc golf course. Grants through the Lumberjack Council are being sought to build a combination ADA-compliant fishing pier and kayak/canoe launch.
“The upshot is we want to hold events in the park, we want to ask people to join us, to help us maintain the park and we want to show the county that it’s worth keeping,” said Follenweider.
“It would really be nice if [the county board] would step up,” Walters added. “Hopefully … when they see the scope of our plan, how detailed and immense it is, they would be willing to meet us half way and get this back in the community.”
After hearing a presentation by Walters and Schmitz and much discussion, the FLRC voted last week to send the “Resolution to Apply for Withdrawal of Part of Town Line Park from County Forest,” to the full board for a vote May 18.
“The withdrawal application will take a two-thirds vote of the full county board,” said committee chair Jack Sorenson. “There’s already been a couple of members of the county board who have expressed their opposition to withdrawal. It doesn’t take that many to kill the withdrawal.”
Sorenson added that if the resolution to sell the land fails, the county will be relying on the Friends group going forward.
“If we partner with you, we’re going to be looking at a long-term opportunity between the county and your group. That’s important for consideration by the county,” he said.
The group is planning a Foundational Memories Father’s Day fishing event for next month, in effort to get families enjoying the park and the lake again. In the future, the FTLLP group aims to work with the county and communities for landscaping, signage, donations of time, money, picnic tables and trash bins, and to plan community events and programming.