MUSCODA - A long-held dream of Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Excutive Director Mark Cupp has spurred an exciting new initiative. At the Riverway Board’s November 11 meeting, Cupp reported that he had been approached by the Shifflet family about the possibility of the State of Wisconsin acquiring the old Wintergreen ski resort and Frank Lloyd Wright style building on the property.
“I’ve had the vision quite a while of a cultural and natural history museum, visitor center, and education center for the Riverway,” Cupp said. “The building on the property was built just before the Riverway law was passed and could not be built today.”
Cupp said the Shifflet family, who recently purchased the 250-acre property, near Taliesin, are interested in seeing the property be publicly owned. They said that their asking price, as a result, would be lower than if they were to sell the property into the private sector.
The property includes about a mile of Wisconsin River frontage, as well as timbered hillsides. The one-story masonry building was constructed in 1989, and is about 20,000-square-feet in size, with a partial, unfinished basement that is about 15,000-square-feet in size. The building is located at the top of the hill, and has beautiful views to the north of the Wisconsin River, bluffs, and the village of Spring Green.
Historically, the property functioned as a downhill ski operation. The ski business was discontinued about 30 years ago, and the building has been used as an event center/banquet hall for hosting weddings, large parties, business meetings and similar events.
The property has been developed with easy-to-navigate trails. The trails take you to the river, where there is ready access to the river.
Cupp told the board that in addition to the museum, he envisions locating the offices of the Riverway Board at the facility. He said that it could also provide office space for DNR staff and possibly for the Friends of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway (FLOW). He said that enlisting the Ho Chunk Nation in the process from the start would be crucial, and envisioned that they might be interested in having office space in the building as well.
The members of the Riverway Board discussed the opportunity, and voted to give Cupp permission to pursue the possibility of the property being acquired by the State of Wisconsin. Cupp said that in order to effectively pursue the option, he would work with the Ho Chunk Nation, the DNR and other non-governmental organizations. He said that he envisions that the property could be acquired with Nelson-Knowles Stewardship funds.
History of property
Former Miami NFL owner Bud Keland, who also served as vice president of Johnson Wax in Racine, developed Wintergreen Ski Area on land that had belonged to Frank Lloyd Wright’s estate beginning in 1968. The ski hill was the third phase of the development, along with a restaurant, designed by Wright himself, and a golf course,
Keland originally planned a nine-story lodge at the top of the hill, along with fishing ponds, skeet shooting ranges, skating rinks, archery ranges, snowmobile trails, tennis courts and a marina. Though those plans never came to fruition, Keland did succeed in developing the down hill ski business part of the plan. To do so, he hired Austrian Toni Matt and Swede Costa Johnson to plan the area and the snowmaking equipment.
Its steep hills, by Midwestern standards, attracted a loyal following. The first season it was open, it attracted 3,500-4,000 skiers per month. By 1971, however, the steeper slopes were modified to be more palatable to novice skiers. The facility had eight runs originally, with only one novice-posted run, three intermediate runs, and four expert runs. When another intermediate run was added, it was done to broaden the facility’s appeal to the general public. By 1978, it had increased to nine runs.
In 1986, the facility closed due to high insurance costs and some poor winters. Owner Robert Graves sold 3,500 of the 5,000 acres he owned in the valley surrounding the ski hill. He kept the golf resort, restaurant and cross-country trails across the highway open, though.A $2.1 million renovation project at the facility began in 1989. Tailesin-associated architects designed the new chalet on the foundations of a previous building. For this reason, the structure has smiliar lines to those typical of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings.
Board member Gigi LaBudde, had reported on the increasing prevalence of the plant, ‘Pokeweed,’ at a previous meeting. In order to satisfy her curiousity about whether the plant was native or an invasive species, she embarked on research, talking with various experts in the field from the DNR and the Herbarium.
“The vivid pink stems and distinctive clusters of black berries really make the plant stand out,” LaBudde explained. “And it is relatively easy to distinguish the native varieties from the invasive varieties – the native varieties have nodding clusters of berries, and the invasives have erect clusters of berries.”
LaBudde attributed the increasing prevalence of the plant in the Riverway to the impacts of a changing climate. She said that she believes that the increased heat and moisture in the area favors the plant.
LaBudde explained that some will say the plant has a medicinal value, and others will say it is toxic or lethal. She said that where it is used medicinally, it is used in very minute amounts. She said that the plant has high bird value, but is toxic to mammals.
In other business
In other business, the board:
• heard of Cupp’s efforts to resolve a cell tower siting issue in Grant County. He said that he told the chair of the Grant County Board that the Riverway Board could not issue a permit for the current proposed location of the 250-foot tower, but that if the location was moved across the road, then it would not be subject to Riverway regulation. Cupp said that when the Riverway Law was passed, cell towers had not yet come to be, and so there is a gap in the law that makes it difficult to regulate the towers, combined with a weakening of local control by municipalities.
• approved a series of two-year extensions of previously approved management plans for various properties, and two new permits for prairie restoration and invasive species management
• heard from citizen Larry Andina, who has lived on the Wisconsin River for 75 years, about his perceptions of problems with management of the flow of water in the river from the dams. Cupp proposed having officials involved in managing the flow on the river and the dams speak at a future meeting where interested citizens could learn more and share their input
• Forest Jahnke of Crawford Stewardship Project told the board that representatives from Vernon, Crawford and Richland counties had all expressed interest in continuing the Driftless Area Water Study (DAWS). He also said he had been in communication with State Geologist Ken Bradbury about a project to update Crawford County’s geology maps – the current map being used dates back to 1876.• Jahnke also reported that the DNR has yet to issue a notice of final determination regarding Roth Feeder Pigs application for a Wisconsin Pollution Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit for their proposed expansion above the Kickapoo River in Marietta Township. He said it was taking the DNR a virtually record amount of time to issue the determination. He also noted that the DNR CAFO team had recently hired a hydrogeologist, who is reportedly very busy with a backlog of work.