Waupaca council approves East Gate site
By Angie Landsverk
The CAP Services’ eco-park project is moving from the Oz Natural Area to city-owned property by the East Gate Subdivision.
The Waupaca Common Council approved the move and also a revised Memorandum of Understanding with CAP Services during its June 16 meeting.
“We will have sustainable education part of the park,” Parks and Recreation Director Aaron Jenson said.
CAP Services will immediately take down the open air shelter it had already begun constructing in the Oz Natural Area and relocate it to the East Gate area, he said.
Construction of the education center is slated for the fall, with interior work to take place during the winter before the center is ready for use in the spring, Jenson said.
Clif Morton, coordinator of CAP Services’ Fresh Start Program, was at the site Tuesday, June 23 with some members of the crew as they worked to prepare an area of it for the open air shelter.
The Fresh Start Program takes disadvantaged, at-risk, drop-out youth and young people who have been in trouble with the law and teaches them construction, life and employability skills while also helping them complete educational goals.
Morton said Fresh Start’s crew will also remove items dumped on the property over the years, with the hope to donate metal to Waupaca Foundry, so it may be recycled.
The crew will also make improvements to the boardwalk, including hooking it up to the educational center that will be built.
On another area of the property, a children’s discovery playground will be built, with an open area remaining nearby for play as well, he said.
The playground will stimulate creativity and the imaginations of children, Morton said.
It will also be a great neighborhood park, he said, noting what will make it unique is the fact that it was built with all locally sourced, natural materials.
An alternative site for this eco-park project was sought after Kari Esbensen and Russ Butkiewicz expressed concerns about how buildings could impact the natural area’s environment.
In the late 1990s, the couple donated the 22 acres that became the Oz Natural Area to the Waupaca Parks Foundation, with the intent that it be transferred to the city.
Their primary focus was to protect the biological diversity of the site, and restrictive convenants outlined their goals.
Development and improvements on the property were to be limited to interpretive signs, a wetland boardwalk, restroom facilities, a parking area, an amphitheater, shelter, trail system, benches and other items approved by the Management Committee consistent with ecological and environmental education purposes.
When construction of an educational center became part of the plan for the park, they wanted an environmental study to take place and also asked the city to consider alternative sites for it.
In early May, the city and CAP Services put the proposed eco-park project on hold and considered other options.
After running into negative perceptions about how the project would affect the natural area, Jenson said they did not want to push a location with such a perception.
“There are a ton of positives for the project. We wanted it to succeed,” he told the council.
As a result, they proposed a 14.5-acre parcel, which is owned and managed by the city and located in the East Gate Subdivision.
“I think it’s a good alternative to what the plan was,” Mayor Brian Smith said. “As this turns out, it is probably a better fit for this property.”
In fact, the new location is the area Morton originally proposed for the project, Jenson told the council.
Morton initially met with Brennan Kane, Waupaca’s development director, to discuss the idea, about two years ago.
A Fresh Start crew is building the homes in the East Gate Subdivision, and Morton talked to Kane about doing an eco-friendly park project in that same area.
As city staff learned more about it, they brought forward the idea of considering the Oz Natural Area for the park project, believing that area would be a good fit.
The Oz Natural Area is located across the road from CAP Services.
The agreement called for CAP Services to do all the fundraising for the project, a Fresh Start crew to construct it and CAP Services to maintain all improvements.
No city tax dollars would be used for the project.
CAP Services raised funds and secured grants for the project totaling more than $200,000.
In addition, Beneficial Resue Management and Waupaca Foundry used the parcel as a site for a community project similar to the sled hill at Swan Park.
Jenson said BRM also set aside close to $22,000 for park amenities within that area. That money will be eligible to use on any of the features within the eco-park, including an idea to incoporate natural playground equipment in it.
The project will have a positive impact on the neighborhood, and with the property bordering another natural area along the Waupaca River, he said it will allow for environmental education similar to the Oz Natural Area, he said.
With the development taking place outside of the nearby natural area border, the latest plan also alleviates concerns about disturbing the habitat of native plants and animals, according to Jenson.
Moving the eco-park project to this site means the Oz Natural Area will remain undisturbed and continue being used by community members as it has been in the past, he said.