While some Port officials talk of selling parks, citizens here and across the nation support protecting land of natural value in the public trust
Folks, we’ve got trouble, trouble right here in Lake City (a.k.a. Port Washington). It’s not too many pool halls, the “trouble in River City” made famous in “The Music Man.” No, friends, this could be worse trouble. It’s too many parks!
Your hear the statement fairly often these days, mainly from city officials: Port Washington has too much park land.
This apparently is viewed as a serious problem. It is being used as a rationale for the possibility of selling some city parks. It has even been mentioned as a defense for the Common Council’s controversial effort to sell publicly owned land overlooking the north slip marina for private development.
The statement is not a fact; it’s an opinion, and a dubious one at that. Port Washington has a large amount of park land, probably more than most cities its size. By far, most of the park acreage is in four parks, Upper Lake Park, Veterans Park, Rotary Park and Coal Dock Park. All of these parks are on the lakefront.
Port Washington is fortunate to have more lakefront land than most communities. Therefore, it has more park land. If this land on the shore of Lake Michigan had not been put in the public trust by wise city leaders of the past, there really would be trouble in Lake City.
When he proposed recently that an inventory be taken of city-owned parkland and other land with a view to offering some of it for sale, Ald. Bill Driscoll was not, of course, suggesting that any of the lakefront parks be sold for development (even though Rotary Park would be a spectacular site for a brewpub). He has identified a few small, unused parcels that probably should be sold (the former site of a water tower, for example), but it would be a mistake to sell the small parks on his list.
The undeveloped land of what is now the Oakland Avenue Green had been used for years as though it were a park. When the land was to be put up for sale by its owner, We Energies, residents of the south side neighborhood in which it’s located appealed to the utility. To its credit, We Energies deeded the land to the city to be used as a park. A small but pretty green space on the edge of a ravine through which Mineral Creek flows, it is today well used and appreciated.
Land at the corner of Jackson and Lake streets that is on the maybe-sell list, though separated from Veterans Park by the water filtration plant, is really a part of that park. It’s a shady green space with a wonderful view of the lake and the breakwater. No doubt, it would be a fine site for a bar and restaurant, but then the public would lose the view. And that is not an option.
West Side Park also made Driscoll’s list. It is true the small park along West Grand Avenue is not used as much as it was when west siders gathered there for summer picnics complete with beer, brats, a band and a carnival, but the land was purchased by the members of the West Side Boosters Club and gifted to the city in 1936 expressly to be a park, and that generous intention deserves enduring respect.
The too-much-parkland mindset seems to derive from the idea that government, as though it were a business, should not own unproductive land. The notion seems to afflict politicians at all levels of government.
Two weeks ago, the United States Senate voted 51 to 49 to support an amendment to a non-binding budget resolution to sell all federal lands except parks and monuments. Will Rogers, president of the Trust for Public land, wrote that the lands “constitute much of what’s left of the nation’s national and cultural heritage.”
In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker has proposed freezing all purchases of land for conservation by the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund until 2028, effectively ending the bipartisan program that has preserved thousands of acres of Wisconsin’s natural beauty over the past 25 years.
These backward steps on conservation reflect a fundamental misjudgment of the American citizenry. Americans want the natural beauty of their country protected by their government.
Since 1988, $71.7 billion has been authorized by voters in 43 states to conserve land. In Wisconsin, a poll conducted in February by Public Opinion Strategies, which describes itself as “the nation’s largest Republican pollster,” found that nearly 90% of Wisconsin voters believe the state should invest in conserving land, water and wildlife even when budgets are tight. The survey also found that nearly 9 in 10 voters support continued funding for Stewardship Fund land purchases.
In Port Washington, the city government’s plan to sell the north slip land has been met with strong opposition from the public, and it’s not even a park. It’s just a parking lot, but it’s a parking lot with a lake view the public values.
Trouble in Lake City? Maybe. But it’s not too many parks.