Off-Road Park memberships selling fast in Forest County
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: John Schnorr
April 7, 2014 (715) 490-5463
Off-Road Park memberships selling fast in Forest County
Proposed Park has over 60 charter members before an acre is acquired
In just the first few months since the plan was announced, over 60 members have invested $150 each to become charter members of the Off-Road Park that is being proposed in Forest County. The charter memberships are being limited to 100.
“Thousands of off-road enthusiasts in Wisconsin have been hopeful for a local park for quite some time and we are tired of making the trips outside Wisconsin in order to enjoy our hobby,” stated new charter member Adam Chaffee of Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin who sent his check to the Wisconsin Off-Road Park, Incorporated (WORVPI) recently. “Right now enthusiasts have to make the long trips to Minnesota, Michigan, and even Missouri and Utah. A park in Forest County will be able to provide more frequent visits so that we can enjoy our hobby more often. I also love Forest County as the proposed site because they understand enthusiasm for Off-Road vehicles.”
WORVPI was formed in Forest County by several interested stakeholders and local organizations several years to go through the necessary planning steps to make certain that the park is economically viable and can be done in an environmentally friendly way without disruption to residents in the county. The feasibility study reveals a substantial economic impact for Forest County businesses with Forest County sales tax going to both the county treasury and to the Tourism Commission through room tax receipts. Annual guest attendance to the park are being kept conservative but the potential seems significant considering parks such as Michigan’s Silver Lake ORV Park host over 600,000 visitors annually.
Off-Road Parks have favorable impact to communities nearby, as evidenced by Gilbert, Minnesota. Gilbert was once known as the red-light district of the Iron Range in Minnesota now proclaims itself as the “Home of Minnesota’s first ORV Park.” According to Bob Chance, Recreation Area Manager for Minnesota’s DNR “Gilbert has seen several businesses launched since the Park was opened in 2007 including a rental business that rents ATVs, we have a car wash that's all of a sudden popped up, and the idea was they would cater to people using the recreation area. The [city] campground has increased its business over and over and over again to the point where now it's a moneymaker and before we opened up it was not. And then another campground, a private campground, opened up. So we see things happening in Gilbert that were not there before.” Minnesota’s park is located significantly further north than Forest County, Wisconsin.
WORVPI’s charter members will receive a dash plaque, and their name will be enshrined in a plaque that will be installed within the park once it is operational. To become a charter member of the Off-Road Park, you can find information at www.worvpi.org.
Wisconsin Off-Road Vehicle Park Inc. (WORVPI) was formed right here in Forest County several years ago by a group of stakeholders interested in evaluating and developing the idea of an Off-Road Park that might provide economic development both in the county and the region. In response to an opinion letter by Judy Savard that was published in the Forest County Republican on March 12, 2014, WORVPI wishes to offer a response. We feel that the many representations and accusations need to be corrected.
In her first paragraph, the park is not being “pushed through.” The park is a proposal being developed by a non-profit entity called Wisconsin Off Road Vehicle Park Incorporated to assist in fulfilling the first objective of the Forest County’s Outdoor Recreation plan 2012-2016 and Objective 13 of the 2011 Forest County Comprehensive Plan which were both adopted unanimously by the Forest County Board:
Support of an MRA Park is evidenced in the wording of these documents, including the Forest County Outdoor Recreation Plan which reads:
The following recommendations are aimed at satisfying needs identified to build Forest County's status as a prime recreation and natural resource area and to provide recreation facilities for all Forest County residents and the surrounding tourism region.
The recommendations are based on the goals and objectives, and the public comment documented in Chapter 4 – Outdoor Recreation Needs Assessment. Although it is unlikely that all recommendations presented in this plan will be undertaken in the next five years, they should be recognized as causes for action if the opportunity or need arises.
One of the top priorities for Forest County is the development of a large destination Motorized Recreation Area (MRA). Potential sites will need to be studied further to identify the best location for this park, however this type of development would fit ideally since it would utilize the natural assets of the county and benefit overall tourism and quality of life in the county.
The County has a long history with off road vehicles, including all-terrain vehicles. For over 40 years the Crandon International Off-Road Raceway has hosted the Brush Run Races and World Championship Races. The Crandon International Off-Road Raceway annually attracts thousands of motorized recreational enthusiasts to Forest County. The Motorized Recreation Area would have a synergistic relationship with the Crandon International Off-Road Raceway to make it a premier destination.
Further evidence of Forest County support comes from the 2011 Forest County Comprehensive Plan Economic Development Chapter:
Objective #13. Work with state, federal and local governments to locate a destination MRA in the County.”
So WORVPI was formed in Forest County with the involvement of public officials and interested individuals to pursue the implementation of these goals.
Also, in the first paragraph, in response to her statement ”They don’t want the public to ask any questions or put up red flags. They don’t want us to ask questions or question their ability for what is in the best interest of Forest County.” WORVPI has in fact held over 20 local public information sessions and three MRA park conferences, and posted all the information and questions with responses that do not deal with land acquisition on their website. WORVPI has worked very hard to invite people to find out more and to also listen to people that have had concerns.
Also, in the first paragraph, Ms. Savard’s statement that “a majority of citizens don’t want the park” is anecdotal and not supported by any valid measure. Speculative letters and guest editorials, without any basis in fact, have certainly raised concerns; these concerns will likely be eased once the Scoping Phase is complete and the plan is presented.
Regarding paragraph three “the county board has broken the law in several instances.” “Open meeting law – several of us were locked out of a public meeting between WORVPI and Oversight Committee”
In fact, the county MRA Park Oversight Committee adjourned at the courthouse and the committee chairman Steve Bunda may not have been clear to the attendees that the meeting adjourned. The Oversight Committee then crossed the street and joined a private meeting of WORVPI where they requested to discuss future meeting procedures and a tentative meeting schedule. (Sorry you missed that it was a really exciting meeting.) WORVPI and the Oversight Committee are exempt from open meetings law in this instance as a subunit meeting immediately after the meeting to discuss noticed subjects of the meeting. To help fill you in on what you missed, in that same meeting, according to meeting notes, Mr. Bunda stated he “saw no reason to meet [with WORVPI] until April or May.” Here is an explanation of that law:
From Local Government Center Fact Sheet No 1 “. Definition. Subunits are created by the parent body and consist only of members of the parent Body.32
B. Applicability of Open Meetings Law; exceptions
1. Generally, meetings of subunits are subject to the advance public notice requirements of
2. However, a subunit, such as a committee of a governing body, may meet without prior
public notice during the parent body’s meeting, during its recess or immediately after the
meeting to discuss noticed subjects of the parent body’s meeting.
Ms. Savard’s letter discusses the “Sunshine law – board members meeting outside board meeting to discuss county business” – WORVPI has no knowledge of this, however, Sunshine law does not prevent board members to discuss county business unless are an entity with the authority to create binding laws, and they lack such authority. An explanation:
“In some cases, an event or document that would normally be accessible through sunshine laws is closed to public access (such as a legally protected matter currently under investigation), but sunshine laws are supposed to minimize these exceptions. Sunshine laws also differentiate entities that are subject to the laws from those that are not. For example, any entity with the authority to create binding laws would be subject to the law, but an advisory committee that lacked such authority might not be subject to sunshine laws, even if it dealt with matters related to government.”
Ms. Savard’s bullet number three regarding the Freedom of information act – refuse to answer citizens questions concerning the off-road park. Once again, the WORVPI and the county board is not required to answer questions under the freedom of Information Act—if there is a specific request for information, however, the jurisdiction would need to respond with the documents requested if the judge deems the information request viable. Neither WORVPI nor the county board has received a freedom of information request to our knowledge.
Bullet point four: “Conflict of Interest- County supervisors on WORVPI board”—WORVPI is a non-profit corporation and seeks members with an interest in developing a motorized recreation area in Forest County. Just like any of the other non-profit boards such as ITBEC, Lumberjack RC&D, Grow North, Community Coalition of Forest County, Forest County Economic Development Partnership, and numerous other state and local non-profits, it is not only not a conflict to serve on a non- profit board but an asset to the county to have members and other elected officials sit on a non-profit board and participate. For example, Governor Walker serves as Chairman of the Board that oversees the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC)—itself a public/private organization. That board of directors includes elected officials, cabinet secretaries, and private business owners interested in the advancement of economic development in Wisconsin.
Bullet point five: “Conflict of interest – Mayor Rob Jaeger on WORVPI board” see explanation for bullet point four.
Bullet point six “County supervisor sequestering and accepting free meals from WORVPI board at a public meeting” The county supervisors gave up an entire day on Saturday to listen, learn and ask questions at a conference presented by the National Off Highway Vehicle Council. They along with all the other guests that RSVP’d were provided lunch at the conference. It seems rude to us to require invitees to pay for their own lunch at a workshop that runs a full day. Anyone else who attended the meeting was also asked to join for lunch as well and if you missed this invitation which was announced early in the day, after conference organizers did a meal count, we apologize.
Bullet point seven ”All meetings to be posted two weeks in advance” To our knowledge all meetings are posted in advance. Please provide documentation of which meetings were not posted. To our knowledge meetings regarding the MRA Park business have been posted on the doors of the courthouse.
Again, from Local Government Fact Sheet #1:
“B. Public notice; posting. Public notice is required for every meeting of a governmental body.
§§19.83 & 19.84. This notice may be accomplished by posting in places likely to be seen by the
public; a minimum of three locations is recommended.19 The notice requirements of other
applicable statutes must be followed. Although paid, published newspaper notices are not
required by the Open Meetings Law, other specific statutes may require them.20 §19.84. If
notices are published, posting is still recommended.
C. Notice to media. Notice must be provided to news media who have requested it in writing.
§19.84(1)(b). Notice may be given in writing, by telephone,21 voice mail, fax or email. Written
methods are preferable because they create a record that can be used to show compliance with
this notice requirement. Notice must also be provided to the governmental unit’s official
newspaper, or, if there is no official newspaper, it must be sent to a news medium likely to give
notice in the area.
Bullet point eight Ms. Savard states “County supervisors signing nondisclosure agreement and confidentiality agreement with WORVPI. This is why we cannot get our questions answered.” The purpose of the non-disclosure statement is for purposes of land purchase or lease. If information on property location was public knowledge individuals interested in turning a fast profit would be motivated to purchase prior to the county and put the county at a bargaining disadvantage if it desired to move forward with purchase of property for a park. This practice is customary in potential development plans where potential land acquisition is involved.
Once again from the Local Government Fact Sheet #1:
“F. Purchases; bargaining. Deliberating or negotiating the purchase of public property,
investment of public funds, or conducting other specified public business when competitive or
bargaining reasons require a closed session. §19.85 (1)(e). The competitive or bargaining reason
must relate to reasons benefitting the governmental body, not a private party’s desire for
Bullet point nine “Armstrong Post office where Chairman Millan works is handing off-road park fliers out over the post office counter.” She is stating that Chairman Millan works as a rural carrier for the post office, which is correct. Unfortunately, Ms. Savard leads readers to believe Chairman Millan is responsible for the park fliers being on the counter of the post office and that is incorrect. The flyers were placed there by a third party volunteer who is not a WORVPI member and who neither knows Chairman Millan nor asked Chairman Millan if they could the flyers on the counter. When Chairman Millan found out that the flyers were on the counter, he had them removed per policy of the US Postal Service. It is our understanding that these flyers were the “33 most asked questions about the proposed Off-Road Park.” These questions and answers can also be found on the WORVPI web site, www.worvpi.org.
In paragraph five, where she states “that the park would be better if built some place outside of someplace like Milwaukee of Madison.” We think Ms. Savard and the DNR are correct. It should be built outside of Madison or Milwaukee—in a beautiful place like Forest County.
In paragraph number six, Ms. Savard is incorrect in stating that no hunting would be allowed. The WORVPI board has gone on record in support of allowing hunting in the park with safety policies in place. This is also clearly stated in the “33 most asked questions.”
In paragraph seven she has a good idea about private money having the park up and running. The reason WORVPI, a Forest County-developed organization, is not supporting that idea is that it would not allow for local input into such things as noise ordinances, environmental sensitivity compliance policies and such things as tax advantages to local municipalities and public access to the park.
In paragraph eight, the misinformation about a $20 million loan to the county is exaggerated from anything that has been talked about at any of the County or WORVPI meetings. The scoping phase is determining the potential cost of the project and will provide that information at the conclusion of the phase. It does appear, however, that with the state grants and easements that will be applied to the property, that the county may be able to own a large parcel of property and receive timber revenue at a fraction of the cost of the land. In all likelihood this will be a great investment for the county. It does not make up for the hundreds of thousands of Forest County land that was turned over to the Federal Government in 1928—as a result of a county-wide referendum—but it is a step in the right direction.
In paragraph nine, I believe this is Ms. Savard’s opinion and that is fine, but we encourage her to look at the dynamics of the park plan when phase two is complete. The prediction models are based on widely accepted models of economic development. The plan is specific to not include things such as restaurants and gas stations; it is designed to support those businesses that already exist in Forest County. WORVPI did, however, offer to help fund the link between the City of Crandon and Crandon International Raceway (CIR), a move that will help Crandon businesses and support the significant investment that CIR has made into camp sites. This proposed link can also help connect to the park and eliminate the necessity to build many large campgrounds.
In paragraph ten, she states her opinion and that is fine, however, “we” is a broad term and we believe that she does not represent the “we” that we find in support of a destination off road park.
In paragraph eleven Ms. Savard states that a WORVPI member that is associated with Ripon College. She is correct, finally. One of our members did attend Ripon College—about twenty-two years ago. Whether that makes us suspect as a board is a stretch, but if you are into conspiracy theories then we must be guilty.
In paragraph twelve, we agree to disagree. Ms. Savard’s philosophy appears to be not to invest and continue to decline. Our philosophy is to consider an investment in the future of the county; one that has the potential to provide two revenue streams: forest products and tourism. Our philosophy is also to create jobs, and a tourism attraction that over time will become a national destination for nature and thrill seekers to enjoy. Whether it was her intention or not, her words discredit the hard work of WORVPI’s volunteer members and the Forest County Board of Supervisors. And, without emphasis on additional county revenue (without tax increases that no one wants to see) it appears that she is proposing a deficit approach to decline. Perhaps this next election will be a referendum—pitting one side that is seeking commitment and investment into a better future and her side which is to seek a decline in the commitment and investment for a better future. It will be interesting, considering the accusations that were hurled against—in her words—the majority [of county supervisors that] have forgotten that they work for the citizens of Forest County. We encourage a positive approach that is focused on how we can work together to give our children and grandchildren a better Forest County.
It is possible that the county board will reject the park concept once the scoping phase is complete and the plan is presented. We respect, however, their willingness to take and idea and develop it in to a plan. We should all thank the county board for supporting ideas that provide promise and allow them to be developed into plans. If the plan is feasible, this might just help turn our county’s economic status upward.
Sincerely, WORVPI Board
A Forest County-based non-profit organization
The Fight for Crandon: In Forest County, Residents are Taking Action to Revive the Northwoods Economy
“There’s a gathering effort, based on 2012 tourism research by Ripon College, to create a 10,000-acre off-road park in Forest County—a massive playground for Jeeps, pickup truck and dune buggies…” read the entire article at:
An Off-Road Park & the Four E’s
Part One in a Series from Issue 3, Volume 122, of The Forest Republican on March 12th, 2014. “In Forest County, Wisconsin Off-Road Vehicle Park, Inc. (WORVPI) hopes to tap into an emerging market by developing a large, multi-use off-road park—a proposal that isn’t without controversy.”
Off-road workshop inspires optimism about potential park
At an informational workshop Wisconsin Off-Road Vehicle Park Inc. (WORVPI) hosted in Carter on Saturday, local residents and officials learned that off-road parks can be, as one expert called it, “economic engines” for counties with lagging economies.
Along with WORVPI President John Schnorr, two representatives from the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council, a non-profit dedicated to providing education about responsible off-highway park development, attended the workshop. Senior Project Manager Jack Terrell discussed off-road park data and trends, while consultant Ron Potter remarked on his experiences helping to develop the Iron Range off-road park in Minnesota.
Forest County Economic Development Partnership (FCEDP) Director Jim Schuessler outlined the reasons why Forest County could use a major economic stimulus like an off-road park.
As a result of declining timber harvest, Forest County’s unemployment has increased significantly in the past few decades, and population and school enrollment have declined, according to Schuessler. In terms of direct visitor spending, Forest County ranks 68 among the 72 Wisconsin counties, leaving lots of room for improvement, he said.
Research suggests off-road enthusiasts from all over the midwest would visit an off-road park in Forest County.
According to a study conducted by Ripon College in 2012 of over 2,000 people from Wisconsin and surrounding states, 60 percent said they would travel 200 miles or more to visit a 10,000-acre off-road park in Forest County. Over one-third said they would travel over 300 miles, said Schuessler. Almost 90 percent of study respondents said they would stay two to five consecutive days at the park, and over 75 percent said they would visit two to six times per year.
A feasibility study conducted through the North Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission projected a $28 million annual economic impact based on 50,000 visitors per year—a conservative estimate for a 10,000-acre park, according to Schuessler. This impact includes visitor spending in the hospitality, gas station and shopping sectors, to name a few.
Because of the declining nature of Forest County’s economy, Schuessler emphasized the need for investment.
“It’s very clear to me that this county always has done an excellent job of managing its expenses, but it has not really shown a long history of investment of potential opportunities for revenue,” said Schuessler. “We’re not particularly sustainable with (current) economic numbers.”
With that in mind, Schuessler applauded the Forest County Board for agreeing to provide a matching grant of up to $46,000 to WORVPI to pay for the ongoing scoping phase of the project.
Conclusions about the success of an off-road park in Forest County can be drawn by looking at the outcomes of other parks. Successful off-road parks exist all over the county, a fact Terrell supported with a review of parks supported by extensive data.
According to Terrell, the total economic value of the off-road market is worth more than $18 billion nationally. In fact, off-highway vehicle sales have increased 195 percent in the last 10 years, he said. These statistics indicate now is a good time to develop an off-road park.
“Almost any place that I’ve seen, that I’ve gone to across the country, where a trail system or park has opened up, that’s been what they found: it generates economic activity,” said Terrell. “As Forest County and the park move forward here, I think you can find an awful lot of economic data that supports the fact that (an off-road park) is an economic engine,” said Terrell.
The state of Colorado, which contains a similar number of registered off-highway vehicles as Wisconsin, enjoys a total economic contribution of $1.027 billion dollars as a result of motorized recreation in the state, according to Terrell.
Hatfield McCoy off-road park in West Virginia was built near five counties suffering from failing economies because of the declining coal-mining industry, according to Terrell. After the park was built, the area saw an increase in output of $7.7 million; an increase in income of $2.7 million; and generation of 146 new jobs, he said.
According to Terrell, after Hatfield McCoy’s off-road park was built, a nearby town of 417 people went from 16 lodging rooms to 130 lodging rooms, from one restaurant to eight and from one gas station/auto part store to three gas stations/auto part stores. Additionally, two car washes, an off-highway vehicle repair business and a campground opened up.
A four-county area in Florida enjoyed a $21.66 million increase in output and an increase of 318 jobs as a result of the installation of the 2,600-acre Croom OHV park, said Terrell. Similarly, Paiute Trails in Utah boosted the local economy by $20 million, and a study found visitors spend an average of $115 per day in the area.
Potter and Terrell discussed the challenges of overcoming popular misconceptions about off-road parks.
“We have to understand that it’s not necessarily all the extreme types of sports that typically you see on T.V.,” said Terrell of park visitors. “In most cases, it’s going to be mom, dad and the kids; it’s a family sport.”
Similarly, many people believe all off-roaders like to destroy the landscape.
“Those folks aren’t out riding that trail from a competitive standpoint,” said Terrell. “It’s getting them out in the outdoors, and they’re getting to see things that typically they don’t see.”
When it comes to opposition from environmental groups, Terrell observed that most claims of negative effects to the environment don’t survive scientific scrutiny.
“As long as you’re careful where you put the trails, and as long as you’re aware of things that may be, you know migration related or nesting or that kind of thing, I think that’s all very manageable,” said Terrell.
Noise is not a problem near the Iron Range off-road park, according to Potter, because sound levels of off-road vehicles are closely regulated.
“We do sound-test everything that comes in,” said Potter. “Our neighbors felt that that was going to be the number one issue, that they were going to be able to hear this, and it would just be more than they could tolerate. I can you that since we opened, we have not had one noise complaint from anybody.”
During an audience question session, WORVPI’s John Schnorr said funding for the park may come from several possible public and private sources, including grants, but the entirety doesn’t need to be paid upfront to secure a loan.
For example, “the bank will say...you’re pre-approved for $200,000 to go buy a home. That doesn’t mean you have that $200,000 sitting in your pocket,” explained Schorr.
Rather, revenue from the park would pay off the debt over time.
When several people asked about hunting, Schnorr said the park’s large size could potentially allow for the closure of some areas during certain times of the year. However, many rules are yet to be determined.
“The last thing we want to do is give you inaccurate information,” said Schnorr. “And unfortunately, sometimes in life, the answer to the question is ‘we don’t know yet.’”