By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — The Dunn County Board’s facilities committee has approved moving forward with a rezone to a conservancy district for a proposed 146-acre park in the Town of Colfax.
Dunn County should consider rezoning the parcel to a conservancy district so the land is protected in the future, said Bob Colson, Dunn County planner and zoning administrator, at a March 7 meeting of the facilities committee.
A rezone to a conservancy district would be a “second wall” to protect the county’s intent to conserve the land, said John Sworski, Dunn County director of public works.
[emember_protected] With the parcel zoned as a conservancy district, changing the land use from a park would require another rezone, which would give the county additional oversight, he said.
Deed restrictions also could be used to protect the land, said Nick Lange, Dunn County corporation counsel.
The 146 acres in question is located along the Red Cedar River just north of the Village of Colfax and east of state Highway 170, across the road from the Town of Colfax’s Felland Park.
Known as the “Ferry Pit,” Dunn County previously used the parcel as an asphalt plant and a gravel pit.
The parcel can no longer be used as a gravel pit because of the required buffers near rivers and ponds and because of the shallow depth to the water table at the Ferry Pit.
The Colfax Town Board and the Town of Colfax Plan Commission are proposing to turn the 146-acre parcel into a park that will provide canoe/kayak/tube landing opportunities on the Red Cedar River; provide additional access to fishing the river and ponds on the property; provide snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter; provide an area for bird watching; provide an area for hiking and dog walking; and provide more outdoor nature educational opportunities.
“We are willing to get rid of it,” Sworski told the facilities committee, noting that Dunn County is not interested in owning any more parks.
Since the Ferry Pit parcel is located in a flood plain and can no longer be used as a gravel pit, the Town of Colfax is proposing Dunn County grant the parcel to the township to use as a park or sell it to the township for a nominal fee.
According to the Town of Colfax’s formal proposal, the Ferry Pit has served as a gravel and sand mining operation and an asphalt production site for Dunn County since 1974.
Prior to the county owning the parcel, the site was used as a local dump area.
In spite of a gate across the driveway and “no trespassing” signs put up by the county, the Ferry Pit parcel is frequently used by local residents for fishing and other recreation.
The Red Cedar River surrounds about three-quarters of the acreage.
According to the reclamation plan, Dunn County has removed 287,000 cubic yards of gravel from the site.
Before Dunn County could transfer ownership of the Ferry Pit parcel, the county will have to complete reclamation of the mine site.
“We have a reclamation plan and (will) proceed this spring,” Sworski said.
The parcel contains a 15-acre pond.
The deepest part of the pond is 10 feet, with most of the water depth being seven to 10 feet, although a large section of the pond has a depth of four feet, Sworski said.
A culvert that provides an outlet for the pond to the river is currently plugged with debris, he noted.
Reclamation using county equipment and employees will be “economical,” Sworski said.
Reclamation efforts will include removing large “spoils piles,” which could be used to improve river access or pond access or for a driveway on the property.
Mine reclamation will be under the direction of Dunn County Land and Water Conservation, said Dan Prestebak, county conservationist.
Before the parcel could be turned over to the Town of Colfax for use as a park, the land and water conservation division would have to sign off on a certificate of completion for reclamation, he said.
Reclamation could include planting a variety of grasses, and the grass would have to be well established before a certificate of completion could be issued for the reclamation.
Waiting to make sure the grass is well established could take several years.
The proposal from the Town of Colfax notes that the proximity of the Ferry Pit to Felland Park would make it an ideal location for short canoe trips on the Red Cedar River with a convenient take-out location at Felland Park.
If people with canoes — or kayaks or inner tubes, for that matter — entered the river at the Ferry Pit site, they could travel the river past Colfax and then end up at Felland Park.
The beauty of the two parks being across the road from each other is that people would not have to shuttle vehicles so a ride is available at the end point of the trip.
Canoeing the Hay River from the bridge on Highway 170 to Tainter Lake, for example, requires driving a second vehicle to a location on Tainter Lake, with the first vehicle following, driving back to the Hay River Bridge, canoeing down the river, picking up the second vehicle, and then driving back to the Hay River Bridge again to pick up the first vehicle.
The Town of Colfax proposal notes, too, that small craft landings at the Ferry Pit and Felland Park also significantly expand a river trail with Dobbs Landing and the Russian Slough.
Felland Park also offers members of the public using the Ferry Pit access to restrooms at Felland Park, and in the future, potable water at Felland Park, the township proposal states.
Plans and design
Here are some of the plans included in the Town of Colfax proposal:
• Create a consultant committee to guide the development of the park.
• Create two or more river landings for kayaks, canoes and tubes.
• Develop a walking trail between Felland Park and the Ferry Pit river landings for those who want to shuttle by foot.
• Create parking lots for using river and pond access points.
• Develop walking and snowshoe paths along the river and through the savanna.
• Develop a volunteer program to coordinate maintenance of the trails and river access points.
• Coordinate with the Colfax High School biology department on planning that would be beneficial for educational opportunities,
• Install fish cribs and a handicapped accessible fishing pier.
The Town of Colfax proposal notes the township would plan to research and apply for grants, such as the North American Wetlands Conservation Act Grant, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Grant, Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Grant and County Conservation Aids, for financial assistance in developing the Ferry Pit park.
The Dunn County Board’s facilities committee voted unanimously to move forward with a rezone to a conservancy district for the 146-acre parcel known as the Ferry Pit.
The next step in the rezone process will be to hold a public hearing.
A Conservancy District is defined under the Dunn County Comprehensive Zoning Code in section 13.2.15.
According to the purpose section: “The Conservancy District is established to preserve and perpetuate in an open state certain areas such as lowland swamps, marshes and wetlands, floodplains and stream beds, slopes, bluffs, wooded areas and other areas of aesthetic value which, because of their unique physical features, are deemed desirable to be retained for the benefit of this and future generations. The regulations of the Conservancy District are intended not only to preserve and perpetuate open space land and water areas consistent with the intent and purpose of this chapter, but also protect the community and the County from costs and consequences which may be incurred when unsuitable development occurs in such areas.”
Permitted uses in a Conservancy District include grazing; harvesting of any wild crop such as marsh hay, ferns, wild rice, berries, tree fruits and tree seeds; sustained yield forestry or enrolled in Managed Forest Law; hunting, fishing, trapping, preservation of scenic, historic and scientific areas and wildlife preserves; nonresident buildings used solely in conjunction with the raising of waterfowl, minnows and other similar lowland animals, fowl or fish; hiking trails or bridle paths; accessory uses; public and private parks; picnic areas; golf courses and similar uses; electric distribution, gas distribution, gas transmission, renewable energy generation facility (small) and town border station. [/emember_protected]