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Kohler Golf Course One Step Closer To Construction, Park Land Swap OK'd

Update: Wednesday, the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board approved giving a parcel of Kohler Andre State Park to Kohler's proposed golf course in exchange for more than nine acres adjacent to the park.

The board voted unanimously to approve the proposal.

Original Post, February 27, 2018:

Kohler has manufactured faucets and toilets for generations. It has also branched out into other businesses including building and running golf courses. The company is poised to create its third on property bordering Kohler Andre State Park in Sheboygan County.

The DNR aims to help push the project forward by granting Kohler an easement that would allow golfers to enter the park's main entrance to enter the golf course.

The Natural Resources Board will consider the proposal this Wednesday.

Jim Buchholz is not thrilled with the idea. Now retired, he served as Kohler Andre Park superintendent for 27 years. "They will build this roundabout here and they’re going to try to divide the traffic here," Buchholz explains.

He isn’t worried about traffic patterns, Buchholz is thinking about what the new roundabout would cover – a sand dune that have survived generations.

Credit WDNR Real Estate Section Bureau of Facilities and Lands
Land swap being proposed at Wednesday's Natural Resources Board meeting.

"(They were) deposited by the Alongquin, the glacial lake that was here. It’s got wetlands in it, it’s got all of the different grasses and plants you would find in the state natural area which is just a few feet that way." Buchholz adds, "This area here would have to be bulldozed and flattened quite a bit. And then the main road to the golf course would go straight through the sand dune area."

The DNR plan would also give Kohler nearly five acres on which the company would build several maintenance buildings. The proposal states that this land “is not being used for any park functions or services and is no longer needed for the state’s use for conservation purposes."

That statement leaves Buchholz baffled. "It’s true there’s not trails through here, there’s no restrooms here. There’s no parking areas here or buildings, but it was done intentionally."

The retired superintendent says the rule of thumb is to develop less than eight percent of a state park. "The rest of it left for conservation purposes for wildlife and people to enjoy the natural area without having buildings here," Buchholz says.

He isn’t impressed with the parcel Kohler Company would give the state in return. "It’s a bulldozed area, flat, a few trees. It’s attached to the park in two areas, but it’s surrounded by swamp so there’s no way you can walk from the state park to that area."

Credit Susan Bence
Glimpse of property Kohler would swap for land within Kohler Andre State Park.

Doug Haag with the DNR’s internal services division says the Kohler offer has value and points to buildings on the property. "Possibly providing employee housing, certainly some storage and administrative facilities, maintenance facilities we can use to help provide some of the support facilities for the park out there," he says.

And he adds, it’s not only important for the DNR to steward state parkland, but also work with landowners to make sure they have access to their property.

"Over the last five years we’ve done about 50 land exchanges, crossed department properties and in terms of providing access across state land. We frequently have properties that either have very poor or no access private-end holdings, and we try to work with our neighbors." Haag adds, "Our general belief is that people should have good legal permanent ingress and egress to their properties, farms, businesses and homes."

Credit Kohler Co.
Rendering of proposed maintainence buildings Included in Kohler's 2017 application to the US Army Corps of Engineers requesting permission to discharge dredged and fill material into 3.69 acres of wetlands during construction of the proposed golf course.

Dirk Willis with Kohler says his company spent three years analyzing how to create as little environmental disruption as possible while bringing its new golf course to life.

"Many of those iterations, in fact all of those iterations we were crossing state land and potentially have an impact on some areas. This proposal has the least of those impacts and if you look at that land per the DNR and the State, they deem it no longer necessary for any conservation purposes, so realistically this potential proposal has the least impact," he says.

Some people wonder if Wisconsin is setting a dangerous precedent by offering up even a small parcel of state parkland for development.

Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio
Milwaukee Public Radio
Kohler Andre State Park

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Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.<br/>