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December 24: News from around the Driftless Area
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‘News from Around the Driftless Area’ is a compilation showcasing the excellent work and interesting tidbits from the community journalists sprinkled throughout our area.

VIROQUA –The Friends of Vernon County Parks and Forests will be hosting ‘Snowcially distanced’ guided winter walks exploring various Vernon County parks on Saturday afternoons in January and February of 2021. The winter walks and bonfire series are for family and friends of all ages. Walkers are to meet in the park parking lots. All walks will have a volunteer guide and will be approximately 45 minutes to one hour long, with a bonfire to immediately follow. Most walks will begin at 3 p.m., except the January 30 ‘Sidie Stomp,’ which is a collaboration with our friends at Vernon Trails, and will begin at 5 p.m. The Friends of Vernon County Parks encourages walkers to always dress appropriately for the walk and the weather, invite your family and friends, and bring your own warm beverages. Social distancing is required and masks are encouraged. Winter Walks & Bonfire locations and dates are as follows:

• Sat. January 2 – Upper Duck Egg – 3 p.m.

• Sat. January 16 – Esofea Park – 3 p.m.

• Sat. January 30 – Sidie Stomp – 5-8 p.m. Candlelight Walk Hosted by Vernon Trails

• Sat. February 6 – Upper Duck Egg – 3 p.m.

• Sat. February 13 – Esofea Park – 3 p.m.

• Sat. February 20 – Sidie Hollow (meet at Main Shelter) – 3 p.m…Vernon County Zoning Administrator Ashely Oliphant reported at the most recent meeting of the Zoning Committee that her office has created a new form for use by townships to report on land changes being made. The department will use the forms to verify that buildings or land use  meet floodplain regulations. She reported that 108 FEMA violations have now been corrected in the county, or 51 percent of the total violations. 

LA FARGE – Jason Rusch, a non-resident of the area, purchased a landlocked property in the Vernon County Town of Stark. Access to the property required a private bridge across the Kickapoo River, one mile south of LaFarge. The bridge was wiped out in a flood in September of 2016. In 2017, Rusch requested assistance from the Town of Stark Board, citing state law concerning landlocked property. The law states that property can be taken by the town from an adjoining landowner and a road built at the expense of the owner of the landlocked property. Following a long legal battle, which may not be over, an approximately 1,700-foot road was completed on December 7 on the property of Eric Slaybeck, who didn’t want to sell and still hasn’t cashed the check for the road land taken…Bentley Nelson was the winner of the LAPA medallion hunt held on December 5. The medallion was found near Bergum’s Food Mart. Nelson received $50 in LAPA Bucks.

ONTARIO – The Ontario Village Board heard at their December meeting that FEMA had approved buyouts for the nine properties damaged in the 2018 flood…Though similar measures had failed in November, a repeat motion to require masks at Wilton Village Board meetings met with board approval at their most recent meeting, by a 4-2 vote. Village board members Reina Coleman and Tom Brieske voted against the measure, with Eli Yoder, Tim Welch, Sid Thayer and Morgan Martin voting for it. The December motion had a key difference from November’s failed motion. That is that members who fail to wear a mask will not be escorted from the Wilton Community Center building, as was called for in the November measure. Instead, board president Tim Welch will not call the meeting to order if an attendee or board member will not wear a mask. At the last two board meetings, all members except Tom Brieske had worn masks. Yoder had requested that the topic be on the board’s agenda for the last couple of months, noting that a state mask mandate is in place. To support his claim, Yoder added that board member Sid Thayer tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after the November meeting, plus one third of the Wilton  Ambulance Service calls in November were COVID-related. Also, Yoder criticized employee Steve Laufenberg for not wearing a mask… Jahnke Contractors is currently reconstructing the Elroy-Sparta State Trail segments between Wilton and Kendall, and between Kendall and Elroy. The planned completion of the work is expected in September 2021. The project cost is $2,303,800…

PRAIRIE DU CHIEN – Shawn Zeeh is no Grinch. Make your merry way past his house on the south end of Wauzeka in December, and his meticulously-designed, nostalgic Christmas light display will illustrate exactly the pure joy he has in bringing his personal attraction to the community. “It’s always been one of my favorite times of year,” said Shawn, 38, who teaches in the Wauzeka-Steuben School District. “I remember being little and helping my dad build the stable for our nativity scene.” A lifelong Wauzeka resident, Shawn began regularly lending his organization and creative decorating skills to his parents’ Christmas light display when he was in middle school. Little did his family know that the inspiration building inside him would be reflected at his own property someday… Over 20 community members voiced support for the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre at the December 8 Marquette City Council meeting, as potential budget cuts threaten facility operations and the hours of director Alicia Mullarkey. At last month’s meeting, city clerk Bonnie Basemann revealed the City of Marquette is looking at cost saving measures in anticipation of a revenue loss of just over $110,000 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes a 50 percent drop in hotel/motel tax revenue, the main funding source for culture and recreation, including the Wetlands Centre. “We have a group of people here to thank the City of Marquette for funding the Wetlands Centre, and just to give a better idea of why funding the Wetlands Centre and doing what we do, how that impacts the community,” Mullarkey said to start the discussion.  “For me, it’s important to think about our mission: to provide a unique learning experience that connects people to the natural world and to each other,” she added. “There’s a little line on our donor board that says ‘Fostering natural connections: learn, gather and grow here.’ And I feel like that’s what we’ve done the last five years I’ve been here. We’ve really focused on this to be a place for education, to learn about the natural world, but also to have gatherings and make it more of a community resource.” Many in attendance appreciate the educational opportunities at the facility, whether it’s unstructured play on their own time, field trips or after school programs. The Wetlands Centre also regularly hosts events, such as Wetland Explorers: Nature Tots, Astronomy Night, Dino Day, HawkWatch, an Easter egg hunt and farmers market. Musical events have been held there, as well, providing a safe outdoor venue even during the pandemic. Sharon Burke, with the early childhood program for Northeast Iowa Community Action Corporation, said she recognizes the essential role nature plays in the healthy environment of young children, both physically and mentally.

BOSCOBEL – The Wisconsin River Trail, which is being constructed along the Wisconsin River connecting Boscobel, Woodman and Wauzeka, will begin work along 2.5 miles of Highway 133 near Woodman this spring. Wisconsin River Trail Organization president Denise Fisher said the Woodman section will be built through the use of a $1.33 million Department of Transportation grant. The section will be a trail separated from the highway and will run along the southern edge of the railroad tracks, from near Milk Specialties to near Cozy Acres mobile home park. When completed, the trail will go from Boscobel to Woodman, before crossing the river to Wauzeka. It is hoped that later phases of the project will add a return route along the north bank of the river that heads from Wauzeka to near the Highway 61 Bridge, a 26-mile loop.