Tracy Hames, the Executive Director of Wisconsin Wetlands Association, met with a small group of people interested in tourism development of the wetlands on the north end of Gays Mills on Sunday, Sept. 21.
Hames met with a group comprised of village board member Ed Block, Royal Bank President Rick Busch, former Gays Mills Economic Development Coordinator Julie Henley, Mark Drake, and Jack Knowles. Also in attendance was Maggie Jones, a local conservationist.
“What we ended up doing was talking about developing the right approach,” Hames said of the meeting. “It is possible to develop the area for recreational and educational use in a way the protects and even restores wetland, while taking into account the impact of flooding on the landscape and any development.”
Hames, Drake and Henley walked a portion of the area the group would like to see developed into a trail. The larger group also looked over maps of the wetlands showing it in both its normal and flood states, discussing how recurrent floods would impact different development ideas such as dredging, elevated walkways, etc.
“There are some areas of high quality wetland, others are somewhat degraded and disturbed,” Hames noted with enthusiasm as he discussed the situation later.
Understanding the hydrology of the site and the impacts of any development on the wetlands and wildlife are key to making a sustainable plan, according to Hames.
“You have to understand that at some point you’re going to have a lot of moving water in these areas,” Hames noted.
The group has gone back to the blackboard with plans to bring in experts in wildlife, flooding and wetlands, according to Henley, who stressed that she is not heading up the group, but only seeking to assist them in realizing their goals.
“We really don’t want to do anything negative to the environment,” Henley said.
Henley said the group that met with Hames is informal, stressing that they were representing neither the Gays Mills Economic Development Association (GMEDA) nor the Village of Gays Mills.
“There was talk about a trail before, along with a sidewalk as ways to connect the Main Street to the new development,” Henley said. “The money wasn’t there, but I think we are ripe at this point to try again.”
The group sees the area north of Gays Mills as an asset that could be linked to the Kickapoo Bottoms and used for recreation and education, fostering more tourism, according to Henley.
Hames did reconfirm that a dredging project would require periodic maintenance dredging to keep the water body open. But he felt aspects of the project, which is larger than simply dredging, showed potential if all the stakeholders with an interest in the wetlands–local, county, and state–could develop a plan together.
Hames will be back to do a wetlands and flooding presentation sometime in the first half of November, Henley said. She hopes to have a small group of local community members join in a discussion with DNR officials and scientists, a step she said Hames suggested.
“This has potential to be a really successful project if you get the local community involved and get the expertise in to plan this all as one,” Hames said. “Bringing all the viewpoints and information together makes for the best possible plan.”
“I think you’re really sitting on something here special here,” Hames said of the wetlands.