An impressive roster of community leaders spoke to an attentive audience in Wauwatosa, October fourth, about a range of topics relevant to protecting and enjoying the scenic assets of Wisconsin. The Scenic Wisconsin Leadership Conference, produced by non-profit Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin, took place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. The day-long program started with Milwaukee County Parks in the morning, and progressed through tourism and recreation in the state, a national perspective on scenic conservation, control of billboards along highways and preservation of iconic historical barns. Charlie Mitchell, founder of CSW and member of the Wauwatosa Historic Preservation Commission, was presented with a Lifetime Service Award by CSW.
Chairman of the Milwaukee County Parks Committee, Jason Haas, recounted that the county parks were originally started in the late 1800s for the benefit of the city-dwelling working man in the industrial revolution. Today Milwaukee County has the most parks in Wisconsin, with well-designed golf courses that compete with the best privately owned public courses. Whitnall Park not only has the wonderful Boerner Botanical Gardens but also wonderful outdoor entertainment in the warmer months.
Anne Sayers, Deputy Secretary of the State of Wisconsin Department of Tourism, spoke about the reorganization and renewed energy in the Department. Her years of work for The Nature Conservancy give her an understanding of the importance of a healthy natural environment, now known to be essential to well-being, both physical and mental. With the establishment of the Office of Outdoor Recreation, the Department is ready to compete with other states for tourists, even with a smaller budget than most states, by emphasizing the unique and varied charm of Wisconsin.
In regard to improving charm and beauty, Paul Rusk of the Dane County Board of Supervisors recounted the arduous process of removing three giant billboards near the Dane County Airport in 2018. The land had been re-zoned as conservancy, and an order to remove the billboards was issued. The billboard company protested with a drawn-out lawsuit which included accusations of improper procedures by the board, but the court upheld removal. Approval by the public was expressed in a letter to the editor of the Capitol Times.
Gary Goyke, President of Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin, reported on the introduction of a piece of legislation known as the Billboard Reform Act into the state legislature. The Act (Assembly Bill 421), authored by Rep. Amanda Stuck of Appleton, would prevent construction of any more billboards along major highways and has been assigned to the Assembly Transportation Committee. To have a chance at passage, significant public support will be necessary. Gary urged everybody to write or email their state senator and representative, or for convenience go to www.scenic.org/BillboardReformAct .
How you can make excellent travel and vacation plans on your smart phone was demonstrated by Jim Zellmer, president of Amuz Travel Apps. Amuz provides an app that lets you discover little-known places of interest and gives you detailed information about them, along with perfect road maps and driving directions.
Preparatory to presenting the award to Charlie Mitchell, former councilman Dennis McBride spoke of Mitchell’s reliable work toward preserving historic properties and his dedication to saving the woods on the County Grounds. Mayor Kathy Ehley concurred, reading a statement and presenting the award.
Mitchell accepted the award graciously, referring to a dedicated board of directors and a hard-working president Gary Goyke for making CSW a success. He said that now the important thing is to support the Billboard Reform Act, and join the other seven states which ban or limit billboards along highways. There is no evidence that people in states that have no billboards aren’t getting all the goods and services that they need, he said.
Amanda Stuck stood before the audience and said that there is a row of billboards so close together along Hwy. 41 that you can’t see the real Appleton behind them. This has become an issue of concern among voters in The Appleton area. And billboards are costly to remove when they are in the way of a highway widening project because billboard owners demand high prices. This adds to the cost of highway projects that taxpayers pay for.
In his keynote speech, Mark Falzone, President of Scenic America, characterized Scenic America as the only nation-wide organization dedicated solely to the visual environment and highway beautification. He said they are committed to the principals stated by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 when he signed the federal Highway Beautification Act, an act that Ladybird Johnson is famous for promoting. Mark stated the five major objectives of Scenic America, enlarging on each: Improving Community Character, Honoring Parks and Open Spaces, Respecting Byways and Gateways, Removing Overhead Wires, and Promoting Beautiful Highways. Mark touted the recent re-instatement of the National Scenic Byways Act as a win by Scenic America.
Chuck Law, professor at UW Extension Madison and director of the Barns Preservation Program, said that it has been difficult saving historic old barns because of the prohibitive expense and difficulty finding practical re-uses for them. But he hates the thought of Wisconsin landscapes without the traditional familiar barns. UW Extension has identified a set of publications that are instructive in maintaining old barns and helps stage technical information “workshops”. He said real estate sales ads are now starting to cite a barn on a property as a desirable asset.
Steve Nagy, owner of “wedding barns” has made a successful career of restoring barns so they can be used for social events. Having grown up in Hungary, he is instilled with the European principal that you don’t tear down venerable old buildings.
Advance registrations totaled 49 persons. The conference room was full for the keynote presentation by Falzone at lunch.
For your reference, a copy of our final agenda may be downloaded here (.pdf).
October 8, 2019