Dunn County Board: “Ferry Pit” donation to the Town of Colfax in limbo

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE  —  Although it initially appeared that Dunn County was going to donate land on the Red Cedar River near Colfax to the Town of Colfax for a park, the status of what is known as the “Ferry Pit” is now in limbo.

Gary Bjork, Dunn County Board supervisor from Colfax and a member of the Colfax Town Board, broached the issue of the Ferry Pit at the Dunn County Board’s October 17 meeting during a discussion of the proposed budget for 2019.

The Dunn County Board’s facilities committee approved moving forward with a rezone to a conservancy district for a proposed 146-acre park in the Town of Colfax earlier this year during a March 7 meeting of the facilities committee.

Rezoning the parcel to a conservancy district would protect the land in the future, said Bob Colson, Dunn County planner and zoning administrator, at the March 7 meeting.

The Town of Colfax is proposing to develop the land as a park, and about a year ago, a decision was made to donate the land to the Town of Colfax, Bjork said at the October 17 meeting.

What is known as the Ferry Pit is located on the Red Cedar River on the northwest side of the Village of Colfax and is across state Highway 170 from Felland Park in the Town of Colfax.

During the summer, people will go across the road from Felland Park to the Ferry Pit area, enter the Red Cedar River and then will float down the river back to Felland Park, Bjork said.

The trip from the Ferry Pit back to Felland Park is about an hour and a half, he noted.

Youngsters who want to float the river can ride their bicycles out to Felland Park, and their parents do not have to take them, Bjork said.

“I think that’s a lot more beneficial for the children than being at home playing video games,” he said.

“Then I heard you wanted to sell this land to help balance the budget. Then I heard we’d (Town of Colfax) get nothing. Then I heard the town would get twenty acres to make into a park … right now it’s in limbo. I don’t think you realize how special that piece of property is,” Bjork said.

Bjork said he often drives past the Felland Park area and is surprised by the number of people who are drawn to the parks and the Red Cedar River.

“But what really surprised me, and I’ve lived around Colfax all my life, is the people there I don’t even recognize. The Red Cedar is a great resource that brings people in from a very wide area,” he said.

Bjork said he would prefer the county did not take the access away.

“I heard it would be sold to a land trust, but I don’t know what the policy is,” Bjork said.

A land trust has a board of directors, but the board is not responsible to the citizens of an area. An elected board is responsible to the citizens and accountable to the citizens, he said.

The Town of Colfax has been working with the highway committee for over a year, trying to get this deal done, Bjork said.

“Not to sound sarcastic, but if we sell this, are we going to sell another park next year?” he said.

If a land trust does not have the money, will it be sold to a private party? Bjork asked.

Bartlett said if a land trust or the state Department of Natural Resources did not buy the property, it would be sold to a private buyer.

“I would guess if nobody wanted it, and we were selling it, it would go up for sale to [a private buyer],” Bartlett said.

“Personally, I think it would be a lot more important to keep it as a park,” Bjork said, adding he would prefer the county did not take away the access.

Plans for the Ferry Pit include a pollinator garden, a boat ramp and to make the river more accessible, Bjork said.

Town of Colfax resident Johnne Smalley, who has been working on the acquisition of the Ferry Pit property, has reported in the past that the plans would include a handicapped accessible boat ramp for the park.

“I heard it would be sold to a land trust, but I don’t know what the policy is,” Bjork said.

A land trust has a board of directors, but the board is not responsible to the citizens of an area. An elected board is responsible to the citizens and accountable to the citizens, he said.

The Town of Colfax has been working with the highway committee for over a year, trying to get this deal done, Bjork said.

“Not to sound sarcastic, but if we sell this, are we going to sell another park next year?” he said.

If a land trust does not have the money, will the property be sold to a private party? Bjork asked.

David Bartlett of Boyceville, chair of the Dunn County Board, said if a land trust or the state Department of Natural Resources did not buy the property, it would be sold to a private buyer.

“I would guess if nobody wanted it, and we were selling it, it would go up for sale to [a private buyer],”  said David Bartlett of Boyceville, chair of the Dunn County Board.

“Personally, I think it would be a lot more important to keep it as a park,” Bjork said.

The county would not be selling the entire parcel. There was extra land that could be available for resale without damaging the proposal for a park, said Tom Quinn, Dunn County Board supervisor from Downing and chair of the Planning, Resources and Development Committee.

The highway committee is currently discussing selling part of the parcel. The rest of it would have to be in conservancy because it is flood plain and cannot be developed, said Kelly McCullough, vice chair  of the highway committee and county board supervisor from Menomonie.

At one time, a landfill was located on the Ferry Pit property, and it would require environmental remediation if it were going to be developed, he said.

“It more or less has got to stay as wild land,” McCullough said. 

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