It was an exciting year in the Sauk Prairie area as the villages continued to see growth and new restaurants, venues and natural areas began to change the area. The Eagle staff put together the top 10 stories for this last year.

10. Milio’s and Dunkin Donuts come to town

Sauk Prairie residents have been flocking to the new Milio’s Sandwiches location at 410 Philips Blvd. in Sauk City.

The restaurant officially opened its doors to the public Aug. 10, and if the foot traffic has been any indication, Milios is a welcome addition to the Sauk Prairie area.

Dunkin Donuts was soon to follow in the same area

9. High school evacuated for homecoming

About 100 Sauk Prairie High School students participating in a homecoming activity were evacuated from the area Sept. 25 as police responded to a nearby domestic-related incident.

Sauk Prairie Police officers were called to an apartment building in the 100 block of Maple Street in Sauk City at 6:40 p.m., according to Sauk Prairie Police Lt. Travis Hilliard. While at the scene, a 28-year-old Sauk City man refused to cooperate with officers who were there to arrest him. He later surrendered to police without incident.

As events unfolded, additional agencies were called to the scene for assistance at the apartment, including an armored vehicle, and to help with crowd control.

Hilliard said two children, ages 2 and 6, were in the home at the time of the incident. They were unharmed, and later returned to their mother.

8. Water street corridor reimagined

The Sauk Prairie area is getting a little help with visioning for the Water Street corridor from students in the UW-Madison Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture and MDRoffers.

The partnership is a commitment made by the communities of Sauk City and Prairie du Sac to find ways to revitalize Water Street, the main thoroughfare connecting the two communities along the Wisconsin River.

Master’s students in the department will work with UW alumnus and certified planner Mark Roffers, who serves as planner for the village of Prairie du Sac and a consultant for Sauk City at times. The students work to fulfill a degree requirement and gain practical knowledge and experience in planning.

In turn the villages will receive a visioning document with guidance on the latest in planning thought and practice, with emphasis on making Sauk Prairie a better place to live and work while furthering a high quality of life.

7. Woodshed closes with new Vintage building on tap

The Woodshed Ale House has closed its doors. It was a place that had become to many a staple for good food, great beer and entertainment over the past four years had its last hurrah Dec. 2.

“We had a huge blow out bash with seven of our favorite bands,” said Scott Manning of the Vintage Brewing Co., owners of the Woodshed at 101 Jackson St., Sauk City. “With a heavy heart, we had to let it go.”

News of the establishment’s closing isn’t a huge surprise, as the construction process of the company’s 10,000 square-foot restaurant, bar and banquet space on Water Street overlooking the Wisconsin River is wrapping up.

“It’s one of those things we had to put a date on,” Manning said of the Woodshed’s closing. “But we aren’t leaving the Woodshed’s customers out in the cold. Something bigger and better is coming very soon.”

Rita Kaja, who managed the Woodshed for the past three years, said the establishment was known for its cozy atmosphere.

6. New 6:8 pantry site

The walls are up and the vision John and Sarah Ramthun had for a new facility for their growing organization is finally taking shape.

The new, 8,600 square-foot facility will serve as headquarters for 6:8 and the Sauk Prairie Area Food Pantry and features a main entrance/reception area, childcare room, teaching kitchen, dining room, classroom, office space, meeting rooms and an outdoor garden and orchard.

The 6:8 organization was founded about seven years ago, said John Ramthun, 6:8 co-founder. The group helps spread an awareness of poverty and the challenges of those dealing with poverty with education, service and conversation. It helps coordinate, sponsor or is directly involved in community events such as Fire on the River, Sauk Prairie Against Hunger, Silver Cord and mission trips.

The new 6:8 facility sits on a 1.5 acre-lot at 821 Industry Dr., in the Sauk City Industry Park. Currently 6:8 operates out of the Ramthuns’ Prairie du Sac home, while the food pantry is located by St. Vincent de Paul in Prairie du Sac.

5. Bakery child worker controversy

When Sauk City resident Curtis Eberle first opened the Mixing Bowl in Sauk City in 2014, a dream became a reality. Not only did he co-own the bakery and coffee shop, but he was able to spend time with his family.

“I did construction and insurance sales but I wanted something where I could be closer to my family,” Eberle said. “Being here with the kids gave me that.”

In 2016, Eberle and his wife, Vickie, bought out a previous partner and took full control of the business. Together with their nine children, they worked hand-in-hand greeting customers, selling coffee and baked goods. They say the experience taught their children responsibility and respect.

“The main thing I wanted to accomplish with the kids is to show them what a good work ethic looks like,” Curtis Eberle said. “I wanted them to know you just don’t hand them freebies and say here you go; that’s what they will expect. Working here also gave them a sense of accomplishment.”

The Eberle children’s smiling faces behind the counter are no more. In April, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development informed the couple it had received complaints about “young minors” working at the business.

“We received and followed up on several anonymous complaints of young children working at the bakery and contacted the company April 4,” said DWD Communications Director John Dipko. “We understand the business is currently in compliance with child labor laws, and we have notified the company we are closing our investigation.”

While the two older Eberle children, ages nine and 11, would help out behind the counter getting bakery items for customers and taking coffee orders, the younger ones helped in the back room by doing dishes and other cleanup work, placing cupcake liners in the pans and taking stock of inventory.

“We live most of our lives here. Why can’t they do their chores here?” Vickie Eberle said. “We are just trying to raise children who are useful in the community and who are respectful and responsible.”

4. Army pull out of water deal

The latest groundwater results for the former Badger Army Ammunition Plant area show although slowly decreasing, unsafe levels of dinitrotoluene continue to be detected in the northeast corner of the former ammunition site in the town of Merrimac.

In September, levels of DNT were detected as high as 3.365 parts per billion – 67 times higher than the health-based standard of 0.05 parts per billion. DNT exposure has been linked with an increased risk for cancer and other illnesses.

The U.S. Army held a public meeting Nov. 28 at the Ruth Culver Community Library in Prairie du Sac, where results of a community survey, results of the most recent groundwater monitoring and a review of the human risk health assessment were unveiled.

Army representative Cathy Kropp said the community survey was issued to residents in the affected area as a way to hear their concerns and identify issues that need to be fixed as well as gather general information. Of 72 surveys handed out at the last public meeting, 25 were returned.

Kropp said 65 percent of respondents believe the Army doesn’t have a good working relationship with the communities surrounding the former Badger Army Ammunition Plant, and 96 percent want more information on cleanup efforts.

More than half – 63 percent of respondents – don’t think the program the Army is using is doing enough, and a little less than half – 46 percent – don’t think the Army is spending enough on cleanup efforts.

3. Merrimac sells to TDS Metrocom

TDS Metrocom, a subsidiary of Madison-based TDS Telecom, is acquiring Merrimac Communications, based in Merrimac, to fill out its service area located near communities already served by TDS.

The purchase agreement was announced on Wednesday. Terms were not disclosed. The purchase is expected to close in the first quarter of 2018.

Merrimac, owned by Bart and Char Olson, provides cable TV, internet, phone and security products to customers in a three county area, including Sauk, Columbia and Dane counties, serving the villages of Sauk City, Prairie du Sac and Merrimac and the towns of Merrimac, Caledonia, Sumpter, Prairie du Sac, Roxbury, Mazomanie, Greenfield and West Point.

The company, commonly known as Merr-Com, provides high-speed Internet service through fiber optic lines, a way for rural internet service providers to bring the fastest technology to the countryside.

“This investment provides an excellent clustering opportunity for our TDS operations in Wisconsin,” said Jim Butman, chief operating officer at TDS.

2. Book controversy in schools

Sauk Prairie School Board president Ryan Jesberger announced the board’s vote to uphold Superintendent Cliff Thompson’s decision to keep the controversial book, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie in the high school curriculum during the July 24 school board meeting.

Jesberger recapped the complaint process, saying that a committee was formed to review the book and the complaint made by parents Scott and Lisa Enerson about six months ago. The committee’s recommendation to Thompson was to keep the book in the high school curriculum. After several months’ worth of hearing public input both for and against keeping the book, Thompson also concluded the book should remain in the curriculum. The parents then appealed Thompson’s decision, which then became the task of the school board to consider the book’s fate.

After the July 10 school board meeting, the board met in closed session to discuss the book and the appeal. After notifying the parents of its decision, the school district made the outcome public by releasing the board’s vote to the local media.

“That decision is final. The matter is considered closed by the board,” Jesberger said. “The whole process was guided by district policy and guidelines. The closed session was also vetted by the school district’s attorney. It was stated to be a proper process and proper channels were to deliberate and release our decision after that.”

Jesberger was alluding to The Eagle’s decision to dispute the school board’s use of a closed session to discuss and vote on a curriculum-related issue. Capital Newspapers Regional Editor Todd Krysiak filed an open records request to the district on July 12 to obtain the vote tally, related documents and decision from the closed session. In a letter to the district, Krysiak said the publication did not agree with the open meeting’s exemption used for the closed meeting.

At the meeting, Jesberger said he was speaking for himself and not the rest of the school board by saying he stands by the district’s process in handling the complaint.

“I stand by the participants on all sides of the issue. I stand by the actions of the board,” Jesberger said. “This is a board that strives for transparency, engagement and integrity and throughout each step in this process and this district and this board has upheld those virtues and I am proud of the work we have done over the past few months throughout the process. I think it was very transparent.”

1. Great Sauk Trail opens

After decades of work, the Great Sauk State Trail is officially open.

A ribbon cutting ceremony for the trail took place Oct. 19, just below Eagle Overlook Point in Prairie du Sac. Community stakeholders, local politicians, representatives from the villages of Prairie du Sac and Sauk City, and the public were on hand to celebrate the opening.

The event kicked-off with a speech from Friends of the Great Sauk State Trail President Jeff Wright.

“The only reason the view of this river and this land is accessible is because it was once a railroad that brought goods and services to our community,” Wright said. “The trains have been gone for decades, but the high vision of seeing these twin villages rise to a position of importance continues to this day.”

Wright said the trail opening marks a decades-long dream, and celebrates the linking of the Wisconsin River to the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area.