I do not know why the Maytag family dug out the Ceylon Lagoon, now known simply by the area that surrounds it: Big Foot Beach State Park. I don’t know if they did it because they wanted somewhere to fish when the waves pushed too tall on the big lake, nor do I know if they built it as a sort of fish farm, somewhere they could stock and harvest fish. Whatever the case, we can be certain vanity played a role, but what we cannot wonder about is the source of this small pond: Man.
Conservationist are currently apoplectic over a proposed plan to relocate the city of Lake Geneva boat launch to this lagoon. The plan would move the launch from its current location at the end of Center Street, which is a location that’s been both curious and ridiculous since the dawn of boat trailers. The launch clogs the main thoroughfare of this bustling town, creating both functional and aesthetic struggles for all within range. As part of this launch relocation, South Lakeshore Drive itself would be routed around the East side of the lagoon, allowing for a proper beach where now there is just a thin strip of sandy rocks.
I may be a conservative, but I am thoroughly and entirely supportive of the environment. That said, I do think there are ways that both sides of this debate can find peace. On a national front, environmental groups like Trout Unlimited (whom I am a major supporter of) have stirred up grassroots support against states that seek to sell off their owned lands. The environmentalist groups make a very large leap in the assumptions that cause their angst. If a state sells some of its land, that means the Koch brothers buy it and immediately A. Frack it, B. Pour banned chemicals on it and into the rivers, C. Cut all of the trees down and pave it so their Republican friends can park their fancy cars on it.
This is the stretch, and this is what makes people so upset about the thought of a state selling a tiny fraction of its unnecessarily owned land. Nearly 20% of the land mass that is Wisconsin is owned by some form of government, be it municipal, state, or federal. Wisconsin has joined in this land sale idea, contemplating liquidating some of this massive ownership position. Liberals and their conservation hawks say this is a egregious mistake. They say it’s stealing the future from our children and grandchildren. They say that public lands are a right that must be defended. They say the Koch brothers hate children and squirrels.
I say the state should sell land, but they should do so in a thoughtful, restricted manner. I don’t like the idea of polluting our waters and land, but I also don’t like the state owning such an incredible percentage of this state. The bipartisan fix? The state owns the land, they slap a conservation easement on the land that prohibits future development, banning land separations, installing fishing/hunting easements on land that has value in that regard, limits timber harvest, limits agricultural use (installing a percentage of the land that would be allowed to be made tillable), and so on and so forth. If a state does this, then offers the land for sale, do you know who would buy it? Hunters, fishers, people that want to own land to walk through. You know, conservationists. This is the solution to the national handwringing over public lands, because it removes land from state stewardship while ensuring that the land is indeed preserved, forever.
The same concept applies to the proposed relocation of the launch into that man-made lagoon. I mention the man-made part because I do think it’s important to note that this was not some natural occurring pond. It was a Maytag made pond. So I agree with parts of this plan, but not all of it. I think the solution takes parts from the current plan and applies some conservationist principle that will help ease the minds of those who share my concern for turtles and fish.
Let’s agree that the downtown Lake Geneva launch is a disaster. It disrupts traffic and is a general nuisance. Let’s move the launch to the lagoon, but instead of making the entirety of the lagoon the boat launch, let’s take a quarter of the lagoon and make it a launch and leave the rest alone. If the Maytags could excavate a giant lagoon with old timey tools, certainly we can divide the lagoon into two with our shiny earth movers. We keep the vast majority of the lagoon as a lagoon, so the fish can turtles can be happy. Also, John Muir would be happy.
Then, we re-route South Lakeshore Drive. There is faux concern over this road being some old indian trail, which is why we must keep it paved. This is madness. To pay homage to the old Indian Trail, we make the shore path in that area dirt, and we put up a sign telling people that they’re now walking on an old Indian Trail. Also an old Indian Trail? The entirety of the shore path.
With the launch installed at the far south end of the current lagoon, and the rest of the lagoon protected by our new earthen divider, we get to expand the beach that used to be a beach. However, we do not make the beach the entirety of the current stretch. We identify the proper location for the beach, and we make it four hundred feet wide, give or take. We plant nature along the shorelines in the other areas, with rocks to help keep the erosion at bay. With a defined beach, a defined lagoon, a defined launch, and a defined new route for the road, we’re onto something.
There is concern about cutting down trees to reroute the road. I share this concern, which is why I was displeased last year when every tree that even remotely resembled an Ash was unceremoniously cut and burned. Let’s re-route the road, and make it a neat little road that winds through a wooded park. This wouldn’t be the first time that a road wound its way through the woods around a lake, sort of like all of the other roads in this area.
Another concern is the vast amounts of asphalt that would be added. Strange no one piped up when Gage Marine paved over their entire lakefront, without any natural border to catch the runoff gasoline and asphalt tar before it dumps into the lake. Strange no one realizes that with the Center Street launch every drop of rain that falls on the massive Cove parking lot runs right into the lake. Strange that for decades the huge blank swath of asphalt at the Lake Geneva Yacht Club ran from road to lake, without any natural border at the water to eliminate contaminants. Let’s not pick and choose our hatred of asphalt, let’s just place it in a better location.
That means the new parking lot to accommodate park patrons and launch lovers will not be constructed near the lake. It will not be a visual eye sore, nor an environmental one. Let’s put the parking lot farther to the southeast end of the property, and let’s make it gravel. Gravel lots aren’t made from tar, so they’re good. And before I forget, let’s realize we have a boat density struggle on Geneva Lake and therefore the launch fees at this new launch should be very high. We’ll make them high under the guise that we have to make them so in order to pay for the launch, but we’ll all know we’ll make them high because of our disdain for day-tripping boaters.
Like all issues that present as a stark contrast between the wishes of business or municipalities against the sign-writing environmentalists, there is compromise. The current Big Foot Beach plan is compromised, and should be modified to make both sides happy. In that, I’ll be happy, too.