Residents, officials say addition to Interurban Trail would only bring trouble
Almost two dozen Town of Port Washington residents turned out Monday night to let officials know they do not want Ozaukee County to create a mountain bike park in their midst.
The Town Board listened to them during a special 90-minute meeting, then during its regular monthly meeting unanimously approved a resolution “strongly” opposing the creation of the park on 36 acres of county-owned land between Lake Drive and Dixie Road and urging the County Board to instead sell the land “to benefit all Ozaukee County taxpayers.”
The resolution cited concerns about public safety and the difficulty in monitoring and patrolling the proposed park, as well as the remote location of the property, which is inaccessible except via the Ozaukee Interurban Trail.
Board members also said they oppose the use of tax money for a park that will only serve a small segment of the population. If there are enough mountain bikers to require a park, the cyclists should buy the land and create the park themselves, they said.
“I just don’t think it’s fiscally responsible,” Town Chairman Jim Melichar said, noting the county tax rate has been increasing. “We have to stop spending.”
But town officials cautioned the crowd that their resolution is only a recommendation to the county.
“It’s not up to us what they will do with this land. They will ultimately do what they want to do,” Supr. Mike Didier said. “We can deny the park, but it’s all symbolic.”
The Town of Saukville learned that the hard way, he said, when it opposed expansion of the county quarry. It didn’t stop the county from expanding the use, he said.
Andrew Struck, the county’s director of planning and parks, said the Natural Resources Committee will consider the town’s resolution and whether to move ahead with the proposed park when it meets Thursday, Dec. 5.
“I don’t know what this means (for the park),” Struck said, noting it is up to the committee to decide whether to recommend the park to the County Board.
If the board decides to move ahead with the park, he said, the county would work with the town to alleviate its concerns.
The committee chairman, Supr. Don Dohrwardt, was at Monday’s town meeting and spoke against the park.
“I think this is an extravagance we can’t afford,” Dohrwardt said. “If it was for rebuilding a road or fixing a bridge, I’d say yes.
“I, for one, would seriously consider selling it. We have a lot of parks. This is just not the right place for this.”
The county, which has owned the land since 1986, has earmarked it for recreational use in its park and open spaces plan. It has also identified a need for mountain bike facilities, Struck said, noting the Ozaukee County Mountain Bike Club would help develop the park.
The county was recently awarded a $23,200 Department of Natural Resources stewardship grant to develop the park, which would have a 1.25-mile looped trail just off the Ozaukee Interurban Trail.
But the County Board deferred action accepting the grant, saying it wanted to hear from the town first.
The property is a natural place for a mountain bike facility, Struck said, noting that there is only access to the land from the Ozaukee Interurban Trail.
The property wouldn’t be used exclusively by mountain bikers, he added. Hikers would also walk the trails, and other bicyclists could use the park as a rest stop.
Picnic tables, benches and portable restrooms would also installed in the park.
Horses and motorized vehicles would be prohibited, with the exception of emergency vehicles, Struck said.
The park would be a relatively small one by mountain bike standards, he added, so it is unlikely there would be any competitions or events held there.
But Brian Karrels, who owns property adjoining the county-owned land, said he is vehemently opposed to the park.
“You have no way of policing that and keeping people off my property,” he said. “I think it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars.”
His father Roger Karrels said he is concerned people using the facility will park on Lake Drive, a narrow road that he says is already difficult to use at times.
“There are times we cannot get past,” he said, especially when people park on both sides of the road.
Struck said the county would consider prohibiting parking in the area, adding bikers could park in a county lot at the intersection of Highland drive and lane about 2-1/2 miles from the park or use the park-and-ride lot of Highway LL.
The county is also talking to We Energies about developing a small parking area near its substation off Lake Drive about a half-mile from the proposed park, he said.
Roger Karrels also expressed concern that, because of the rural nature of the area, it will be difficult for the sheriff’s department to patrol the park and stop anyone from wandering onto private property.
“We don’t want three-wheelers, four-wheelers, on our property,” he said.
The remote nature of the property will make it an ideal spot for people who are up to no good, said Peter Burmesch, 4542 Hwy. LL.
There’s already a great deal of garbage on the bike trail, which he said few people use.
“This is probably a prime spot for kids to party,” Burmesch said. “The next thing you know, you’ll have drugs there.”
Greg Madden of Cedarburg, a member of the mountain bike club, said people using the park will stay on the designated trails, not veer off onto neighboring properties, adding the number of cyclists using the park will deter people from straying.
“If there’s an issue, come talk to us,” he said. “We’ll deal with it the best we can.”
Dave Nowak, the county’s parks superintendent, said his crews check every park on a daily basis and would also address any issues. The sheriff’s department is quick to come when they call, he added.
“You nip it in the bud,” he said. “The bad guys tend to leave.”
Town officials said their biggest concern is safety, noting that access would be difficult for ambulance crews.
Town Supr. Jim Rychtik also noted that the town gets charged for each ambulance call, so the park has the potential for increasing the community’s costs.
Rychtik also asked if the county had determined how much it would cost to maintain the proposed park. Struck said the typical cost would be between $5,000 and $7,000 annually — something Rychtik disputed.
“The county can’t sneeze for $5,000,” he said.
Randy Noll, a member of the town Plan Commission, said the fact the park would be used by a small segment of the population frustrates him.
“I’m not against the park. It just seems like it’s in a bad location,” he said.
“It’s a small park. It’s not going to draw people from all over the place. It just doesn’t seem like we’re getting the bang for the buck.”
Town Clerk Jenny Schlenvogt added, “Maybe 1% of the county population is interested in horse-riding trails. Maybe we should develop a park for them.”