CRANDON - The future of a four-phased, 10,000 acre off-road vehicle park in Forest County is unknown after a Forest County Forestry Committee vote Tuesday night. The park would offer trails and others things for ATVs, UTVs and other off-road vehicles.
The Forest County Forestry Committee was voting on whether send a modified 15-year comprehensive land use plan to accommodate an off-road vehicle park to the full county board. That had originally contained detailed information regarding the specific plan from Wisconsin Off-Road Vehicle Park Inc. (WORVPI) until all WORVPI related details were removed in May.
The land use plan would need to be changed to build any kind of off-road park on county land. However the committee voted 4-2 against the changes in front of a packed Forest County board room. The majority of people giving public comment at the meeting were against the land use change.
But before that vote, supporters like Linda Collins argued the county needed to move forward to improve its lagging economy.
"It's time to quit dragging our feet and build on who we are, and what we have to offer," Collins said. "We could make forest county a stop, stay, play, and spend destination."
Under the plan, the county would buy more than 2000 acres for the first phase of the park. The purchase would be phase one of four possible purchases to complete the 10,000 acre park for ATV, UTVs, dirt bikes and other off-road vehicles. The county wouldn't be required to follow through with the other three phases if the first phase does get approval.
The project would rely heavily on state loans and Knowles Nelson Stewardship Grants to pay for the land purchase. Counties typically apply for those through their forestry departments. The grants, which have been reduced in the 2015-2017 two-year state budget, have never been used for a project like this.
Chuck Brys, Small Business Development Center, helped do financing for the project. In May 2014, he said the proposal was a great opportunity for the county.
"The financials that are presented contain an awful lot more upside potential than downside risk, by a wide margin," Brys said.
Research from WORVPI for the project shows it could mean 68 more jobs and more than $61,000 in tax revenue for the county in the first year. That is based off of projections expecting 10,000 visitors to the park in the first year.
Consultants expect the numbers to actually be higher, to 50,000 visitors by year three, but they wanted to keep conservative projections. The 50,000 person projection would mean 340 jobs and more than $300,000 in additional local tax revenue.
However, some opponents wondered why the project couldn't be privately funded, and not on public county land, if it was going to be so profitable.
"I just do not believe that the taxpayer's dollars should be involved in private enterprise," Marge said. "If they want to invest money they can buy and invest in the stock market or something."
WORVPI and the county need a modified land use plan to build a park on county land. So for now, that plan seems dead. However, the county board, or forestry committee, could take up the change yet again in the future.
Aug. 2014: Off-road vehicle park referendum fails to pass county board, for now
Feb. 2015: Possible funding freeze could mean bad news for proposed off-road vehicle park