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By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — The Dunn County Board has authorized the sale of the Ferry Pit north of Colfax to Landmark Conservancy, which has the intention of deeding the 146-acre parcel to the Town of Colfax to be developed as a recreational area.
The Dunn County Board’s highway committee and the executive committee have both approved the sale, said Gary Seipel, county board supervisor from Eau Galle and chair of the highway committee, at the Dunn County Board’s April 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.
The Town of Colfax expressed an interest in developing the parcel as a recreational area in 2017.
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.
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 proposed that 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.
Although some people have speculated the Ferry Pit was named because of a ferry on the river, the name comes from the last name of an owner of the property, said Nick Lange, Dunn County corporation counsel.
According to the resolution approved by the Dunn County Board, Landmark Conservancy will have the property appraised and will make an offer to purchase for one-half of the appraised value, estimated at $146,000.
When the county’s 2019 budget was approved, revenue from the sale of the Ferry Pit property was estimated at $360,000.
John Sworski, Dunn County Director of Public Works, has agreed to make up the difference between the actual sale price and the budgeted revenue with money from the county’s highway fund, Seipel said.
Landmark Conservancy is a non-profit organization that serves 20 counties in western and northwestern Wisconsin and is a merger of West Wisconsin Land Trust and Bayfield Regional Conservancy.
The merger was completed in the spring of 2018.
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 an area for 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 for high school biology students and others.
“This is a good move … [a way] to have a really nice park,” said Gary Stene, county board supervisor from Colfax and recently-retired Colfax village president.
Part of the responsibility of the board is to “do things like this” for the residents of the county, he said.
The Dunn County Board unanimously approved the resolution authorizing the sale.
According to the background information included with the resolution, an offer to purchase from Landmark Conservancy for one-half of the appraised value will be made after the appraisal has been completed.
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.