By Kevin Boneske
HOWARD – The village board doesn’t want Duck Creek Quarry Park to get crowded this summer if other swimming areas close because of COVID-19.
The board unanimously voted Monday, May 11, to close the quarry until further notice, subject to the board voting to reopen it.
That means people won’t be able to swim, kayak, fish, etc, in the quarry’s swimming area until at least after the next board meeting June 8.
Director of Public Safety Ed Janke and Village Administrator Paul Evert informed the board about a potential crowding situation at the quarry, where it could be difficult keeping people spread apart to prevent the virus from spreading should other locations not open.
“We are concerned that the pressure on our quarry, if we’re the only place open, would be extremely great,” Evert said.
Evert said he can’t envision being able to handle the amount of people who would go there, if it’s the only open place to go swimming.
He said the village would have to staff the quarry to keep people physically separated and behaved.
Evert suggested keeping other areas of the quarry open, such as letting people use the dock area on the northeast side to put a kayak in and fish.
“We really could envision large crowds coming on a hot day now,” he said. “You never know, it might not get warm between now and our next board meeting, but in the event it does, we want to be prepared.”
Board members discussed the possibility of having the quarry open for swimming with limited hours.
Trustee Cathy Hughes said two of her constituents are part of a group that swims at the quarry for exercise early in the mornings.
“I know this might affect them,” she said. “However, they’re not on the beach with the crowd. They’re in at certain times.”
Other board members said there could be problems with enforcement by allowing limited access to the water.
Trustee Adam Lemorande said he favored keeping the quarry “100 percent closed.”
“I know we’re talking about some taxpayers,” he said. “The bottom line is if it’s open for a few, it should be open for them all. If it’s closed, it should be closed for all. I would say if we’re closing it, let’s close it 24 hours a day and make it very evident that it’s closed. That way, when anybody’s using it, they are somewhat trespassing, and there shouldn’t be a gray area.”
Trustee Scott Beyer said he agreed with closing the quarry, because it could attract a crowd by being “the only aquatic facility that’s open.”
“Then we’re going to get a lot of swimmers from all over,” he said. “I think it almost has to be an all-or-none situation. Otherwise, it’s going to be too hard to monitor, too hard to police, too hard to patrol.
Trustee Chris Nielsen said he kayaks at the quarry, but favored closing it entirely, because of the difficulty of enforcing a partial opening.
“You could have 30 people in kayaks tied together out in the middle of the lake,” he said. “Who’s going to go after them?”
Trustee John Muraski introduced the motion unanimously approved to close the quarry and related parking area until further board action is taken.
Evert said the possibility of reopening the quarry will be on the board’s agenda June 8.
The board’s action comes in anticipation of other nearby swimming areas likely being closed this summer, but Ashwaubenon Parks, Recreation and Forestry Director Rex Mehlberg said no official determination has been made as to when Ashwaubomay Lake could open.
“As with many other facilities in Wisconsin, we are monitoring the COVID-19 situation and trying to determine what we can and cannot do,” he said. “When an official decision has been made, we will put out an announcement. Right now, we are in a wait-and-see mode.”
Mehlberg said the Village of Ashwaubenon needs to “make sure that the safety of our visitors and the staff are fully taken into consideration.”
“That means reviewing recommendations from the CDC on safety gear, procedures, as well as the COVID-19 situation in Brown County,” he said.
As for Bay Beach, where state grant money was awarded in 2019 to improve the shoreline with the hope the beach could reopen this year, the Green Bay Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department said it is currently closed due to COVID-19.
Evert said the hope was a new beach at Bay Beach would open this year to take some pressure off Duck Creek Quarry.
Once the quarry opens, the board has created a park ranger position to monitor and conduct enforcement activities there and in other Howard parks.
Janke said he believes a park ranger who can issue citations will be more effective in maintaining a safe and secure environment than last year when security staff had been present to monitor the quarry.
“I think that presence down there, and maybe use one of our marked squad cars and park it in the parking lot, I think that will have a little more effect on some of the behavior that’s been ongoing down there,” he said.
Of all the problems last year at the quarry, Janke said only one involved a village resident.
He said hiring a park ranger won’t have an effect on the budget with $17,100 already allocated to provide security at the quarry.
Janke said the position would likely be staffed by retired law enforcement officers.
He said a park ranger would be implemented once the quarry opens.
The board also approved amending the municipal code to specifically list a park ranger among the village officials authorized to issue citations.