By Kevin Boneske
HOWARD – The village board voted 5-4 Monday, June 8, to reopen Duck Creek Quarry Park this summer with limitations.
After nearly a half hour of discussion, the board approved a recommendation from Public Safety Director Ed Janke to reopen the park when only Howard residents and their guests will be allowed to use the swimming area daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“From a staff perspective, we discussed this and tried to get a number of different viewpoints, and felt that probably the best way to manage the population there – or the attendance, I should say – would be to limit the attendance at the park for Village of Howard residents, who by and large have paid for the park to begin with,” Janke said.
Village President Burt McIntyre and trustees Chris Nielsen, Scott Beyer, Ray Suennen and Craig McAllister supported the plan, while trustees Maria Lasecki, Cathy Hughes, John Muraski and Adam Lemorande were opposed.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns the park could be crowded with other nearby swimming areas closing, board members unanimously voted May 11 to close the park until they subsequently decided to reopen it.
That resulted in swimming, fishing, kayaking, etc., not being allowed with the quarry and nearby parking area closed.
Prior to the vote reopening the quarry, board members debated whether a system could be put in place to limit the number of people at the park and control who is able to use the swimming area.
“I do think if you’re looking at limiting the number of attendees, you should look at determining a finite number of non-resident guests to attend with a village resident,” Lasecki said. “Otherwise, it’s going to get to be an inequity thing, and I don’t think that that’s the hair you want to split on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.”
Hughes called for keeping the quarry closed.
“The beach is pretty well gone – the water is very high…,” she said. “We’ve had problems following the directions we put out last summer… Having it open is just asking for trouble, again, at this point.”
Hughes said it would be difficult limiting quarry access to village residents because “people that want to come there are going to come there, even if they’re not from Howard.”
Nielsen said voting to reopen the quarry was difficult, given the current environment, but he favored “some sense of normalcy” by opening it.
“Limit some of the access as much as we can,” he said. “I don’t know how that’s going to work, but I think we need to give Chief Janke some ability to close it on the spot…”
With Ashwaubomay Lake closed and the beach at Bay Beach not opening this summer, Lemorande said he was concerned about whether opening the quarry for swimming could set up village staff “for a nightmare.”
“I don’t mind if 100 people go there and use it,” he said. “But what happens when you have 500 people and you have one officer there?”
Lemorande said he fears there won’t be only 50 people distanced 6 feet apart at the quarry.
“We’re going to go there, and it’s just going to be crazy, because it’s the only place to go (swimming),” he said.
Suennen said he believes controlling the number of non-residents could make the quarry a “potentially very nice asset for residents to use.”
“If we give Chief Janke the authority to close it on a temporary basis, until the next board meeting, and give us reports, etc., I do think that would be what the majority of our residents would want, especially those who would use it,” he said.
McIntyre said he supported reopening the park, but wasn’t enthusiastic about doing so.
“What is this going do in terms of the cost of doing all of this?” he asked. “It sounds like there’s some extraordinary effort that’s going to be needed to police it, to set it up, doing planning and all that other stuff.”
Village Administrator Paul Evert said he believes Howard has the resources available to reopen the quarry to swimming.
“Our idea is, people would have to come into village hall to get the wristbands (to swim at the quarry),” he said. “We’re only open Monday through Thursday and half a day Friday.”
Evert said the village’s insurance company was comfortable with the reopening of the quarry, because with no admission charged, Howard would have recreational immunity under state law.
Under the plan released by the village Tuesday, June 9, the quarry will be open under the following conditions:
• The beach area will have limited access between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. only. The beach will be closed outside of those hours.
• All beach users, including swimmers, sunbathers and picnickers, must have a wristband to enter the beach area. Wristbands are free and will be available for residents to pick up at Howard village hall starting the week of June 15. A photo I.D. or other proof of Howard residency is required.
• Adults may pick up one wristband for each member of their family. Each household also will receive two additional wristbands that may be used to bring resident or non-resident guests.
• The remainder of the park and the trail will be open to all visitors and for all uses, except swimming, during normal park hours. Fishing is allowed throughout the park. Non-motorized boats, paddleboards, etc., should launch from the dock, and dog swimming also is designated in that area. Those activities are not allowed on or from the swimming beach.
Janke said the official park opening date will take place about 10-14 days after the board’s action, once the proper gates and signage are installed.