LA VALLE — Wednesday’s tour of Sauk County parks was a little more “whirlwind” than Parks and Recreation Director Matt Stieve had anticipated, but he said he hopes the County Board’s Land Resources and Conservation Committee takes its time with a vital decision regarding the future of one of the parks.
This was not the first time County Board members have been invited to tour parks, but it was the first parks tour since a change in oversight of the parks department became official last month, Stieve said.
The tour centered around parks in the La Valle area, he said, because the Land Resources and Environment Committee — the panel now in charge of overseeing parks, planning and zoning and conservation — needed to get a close-up look at the eroded 54-year-old dam that forms Hemlock Slough at Hemlock Park, located on North Dutch Hollow Road in the town of La Valle.
There’s not much left of the slough since the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources ordered the water drawn down at the end of 2018, due to the dam’s erosion. What once was touted as a 22-acre lake rich with pan fish, large-mouth bass and northern pike now appears to be a loosely connected series of mud puddles.
Stieve said he guided tour participants in an area of the dam that’s usually not accessible to the public, to show them the damage done by heavy rain last summer and fall.
“There was no talk,” he said. “No opinions were shared — at least, I didn’t hear any. They just need to see what we’re talking about.”
As soon as August, the committee and the County Board could decide whether to rebuild or remove the dam that has formed a lake from the Baraboo River backwaters since 1965, Stieve said.
The tour was scheduled to start early in the morning and conclude at about 2 p.m., but it was over before lunchtime, Stieve said, largely because participants didn’t stay at each stop as long as he anticipated.
Most tour stops — including Lake Redstone Park and Beach, the Douglas Landing and the North Boat Landing — also were in the La Valle area.
The tour started and ended at the Parks and Recreation Department’s new offices at White Mound County Park near Hillpoint.
Since the beginning of this year, Sauk County’s Parks and Recreation offices have been located in an $800,000 all-weather building in the largest of the nine county-owned park sites.
On Wednesday afternoon, White Mound Park’s open-air picnic shelter and the 104-acre lake both were alive with the sound of children — fourth- and fifth-graders from Tower Rock Elementary School in Prairie du Sac, celebrating the end of the school year.
“We did fishing, and hiking, and swimming, and bug discovering,” said fifth-grade teacher Karen Cody, who said the youngsters like the park for its wide array of attractions, and because it’s usually not too crowded.
Stieve noted that some of the county parks, including White Mound, require users to purchase either a $5 day pass or an annual pass at $25 or two for $40. Those rates, Stieve said, are the same for Sauk County residents and non-residents, although residents who are honorably discharged veterans are eligible for free annual passes.
The money generated is included in the operating budget for the parks and recreation department.
Sauk County Administrative Coordinator Alene Kleczek Bolin said the parks and recreation department — which has two other employees in addition to Stieve — remains an independent department. But instead of being overseen by the County Board’s Highway Committee, the panel recently renamed from Conservation Planning and Zoning to Land Resources and Environment provides oversight, and the resources of the conservation and planning and zoning departments are more closely coordinated with those of the parks and recreation department.
“Sauk County is very proactive in investing in its parks,” Stieve said. “”When you have great parks, it encourages people, especially young people, to move to Sauk County.”