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Editorial: A good place for the money

In a couple of weeks, the Pierce County Board will vote on a request to release $54,000 from its Park Development Fund to help the town of Diamond Bluff develop and improve Sea Wing Park.

Though this is only a small share of the nearly $860,000 sitting in the park fund, it's a good use of the money.

For about two decades, Pierce County collected a park fee - ranging from $100 to $600 - each time a new residential lot was created in a rural area. The idea behind the fund was commendable -- more residents mean a greater need for recreational areas, and the money was intended to buy and develop parks.

Things didn't go as planned. Over the years, small amounts of the money were used for park development, including adding some amenities to forestland donated to the county. About $150,000 was committed to helping develop a site that will provide, among other things, handicapped-accessible fishing on the Trimbelle River.

But the bulk of the money sat untouched.

Now 20 years after implementing the park fee, the county still owns only one major park. The 752 acres of semi-wilderness surrounding Nugget Lake form a wonderful facility, but it's a safe bet most Pierce County residents have never visited the park, located in the Plum City area.

While finding affordable, available and desirable land for new parks has been a challenge, another obstacle is that the Park Development Fund can't be used to maintain and operate parks once they're acquired. As cash strapped as Pierce County is, that's no minor road block to new parks.

Awhile back the County Board changed Park Development Fund rules to give townships access to small amounts of the money. Still that has by no means depleted the fund.

Time is running out.

The state Legislature has changed the law, and counties are no longer able to assess this type of park fee. Although local officials say the law is by no means clear on this point, counties apparently have to use their park development funds within seven years or give the money back - a process too complicated to imagine.

County committees have wisely been reluctant to take ownership of new park projects and the financial obligations that go along with them.

But in the case of the Sea Wing Park, the town has agreed that it will never ask the county to take over maintenance of the park.

Sea Wing - a three-acre park with 640 foot of frontage on the Mississippi River - is in a good location to attract visitors from a significantly large area. With a beach, boat launch, playground, fishing piers and picnic area, it offers amenities to a variety of users.

An added bonus is that the county is in a position to assist a well planned local effort.

There are few examples in government in which everyone wins - this seems to be one of them.