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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — The acquisition of the 146-acre Ferry Pit site by the Town of Colfax as a recreation area has taken one step closer to becoming a reality.
Rick Remington of Landmark Conservancy applied for and received funding in the second round of the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship funding to put toward purchasing the Ferry Pit.
Dunn County officials said they needed the money from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund by the end of 2019, and the county does have the money, said Kathy Stahl, a Town of Colfax resident who wrote the proposal for turning the Ferry Pit into a recreational area, at the Colfax Town Board’s January 8 meeting.
The next step is to set a closing date to transfer ownership of the Ferry Pit parcel to Landmark Conservancy, but no closing date had been set as of the day of the town board meeting, Stahl said.
“It’s an interesting situation. Absolutely nothing has happened so far in terms of it being transferred,” she said.
“We’re [Remington and Stahl] wondering what’s happening here,” Stahl said.
The plan is for Landmark Conservancy to purchase the 146-acre Ferry Pit parcel from Dunn County with the intention of deeding it to the Town of Colfax for development as a recreational area.
Remington applied for the first round of Knowles-Nelson Stewardship funding, but the grant was not awarded because there was concern about transferring ownership from one public entity to another public entity.
The Wisconsin Legislature created the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program in 1989 to preserve natural areas and wildlife habitat, to protect water quality and to expand opportunities for outdoor recreation.
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.
The Red Cedar River borders about three-quarters of the acreage.
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 resolution approved by the Dunn County Board in April of 2019, Landmark Conservancy would have the property appraised and would 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, agreed to make up the difference between the actual sale price and the budgeted revenue with money from the county’s highway fund.
Stahl told the Colfax Town Board at the January 8 meeting she had attended a meeting of the Dunn County Highway Committee earlier that day, and the chair of the county highway committee, Gary Seipel, had expressed concern that the additional funds for purchasing the Ferry Pit would create more of a deficit in the highway department’s budget.
The additional funds for the purchase may have to come out of the county’s general fund, Stahl said.
Sworski, the Dunn County highway commissioner, has done everything he must do and has filled out all of the forms for the transfer of the Ferry Pit. Everything is now sitting on the Dunn County Corporation Counsel’s desk, and “he’s gone all this week,” Stahl said.
The transaction is waiting for the corporation counsel to do what he needs to do, and for Paul Miller, the county manager, to sign off on it, she said.
The Colfax Town Board has selected a management committee for the Ferry Pit recreational area, but Stahl said there is no reason to call a meeting of the committee until Landmark Conservancy officially has possession of the Ferry Pit.
Obtaining the Ferry Pit has, admittedly, taken a long time.
“A year ago, we thought it was going to happen tomorrow,” said Dean Logslett, chair of the Colfax Town Board.
“Then the county said it had to happen by the end of the year,” Stahl 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 Colfax Town Board and the Town of Colfax Plan Commission are proposing to turn the 146-acre parcel into a recreation area that will provide a wide range of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.
Some of the activities outlined in the Town of Colfax proposal include 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.
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.
According to the Town of Colfax’s proposal, the Ferry Pit began serving as a gravel and sand mining operation and an asphalt production site for Dunn County in 1974.
People who drive into Colfax on state Highway 170 have probably noticed cars and pickup trucks parked in the driveway to the Ferry Pit or across the road.
In an effort to keep trespassers out, Dunn County has placed a barrier across the road leading into the Ferry Pit.
It would appear the barrier has not stopped a certain number of people from already using the 146-acre Ferry Pit as a recreational area.
At the Dunn County Board’s January 15 meeting, Seipel, the chair of the highway committee, said during his report to the county board that while the sale of the Ferry Pit property had not been closed by December 31, as originally had been the plan, the sale would be closed by the end of January.