Historical Group Breathes New Life into Closed Park
BY GREG SEUBERT
After being closed for more than eight years, the former Green Lake Picnic Area in Oconto County will soon reopen with a new name.
The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest had operated the five-acre park near the community of Mountain for years, but shut it and several other recreation sites in the forest down in 2015 to cut costs.
Plans call for the park to reopen next April as A.C. Weber Park at Green Lake.
Brenda Carey-Mielke, a Town of Mountain supervisor and president of the Mountain Historical Society, was a major force in getting the park reopened and worked with forest officials to make it happen.
The U.S. Forest Service will continue to own the property, but the historical society will oversee and maintain the park.
The park is located on state highways 32 and 64. The Green Lake Picnic Area included picnic tables, grills, swimming beach, boat landing and a pavilion listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“The Civilian Conservation Corps established the park in 1937,” Carey-Mielke said. “They wanted a place for their families, so they built a pavilion and put a nice, big fireplace in there. When families came to visit their husbands or sons while they were working, that’s where they could stay. It was built by the fathers and the sons of the people who lived here. It’s a part of the community. Community members built it and it means a lot. I have a document from 1917 that shows it as A.C. Weber Park. Weber owned a lot of land here and it was dedicated as a park.”
The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. The National Park Service oversees the register, which is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.
The Town of Mountain could not have operated the property as a town park, according to Carey-Mielke.
“We’re a municipality and forestry was interested in working with a nonprofit,” she said. “The historical society is a perfect partnership.”
The process of working with the U.S. Forest Service to reopen the park took years, but Carey-Mielke believed an agreement could be reached.
“I saw no reason why it shouldn’t and I just put that in my head,” she said. “I kept the faith. The Mountain Historical Society stepped in and said, ‘Hey, you closed the park, but you have to give us access to the pavilion.’ We’re charged by the secretary of the interior to protect and preserve that building because it’s on the register.
“Once (forest officials) were contacted, we stood firm, basically kept beating the drum and said, ‘Let’s work something out,’” she said. “Once we opened communication and discussed things in detail, we worked out a plan and had to get approval. They had to rethink their order to shut down parks and reconfigure a plan. There’s a big chain of command with the federal government and they apologized for that, but they’ve been great to work with. I was thrilled when (forest technical services staff officer) Mark Beuning said, ‘Yes, we can make this happen, it’s just going to take some time, but it’s going to happen.’ That was about a year ago.”
Several downed trees from a windstorm in 2019 were still laying in the park this summer, but the U.S. Forest Service recently removed several of them and will continue this fall, Carey-Mielke said.
“We’re looking at opening the park in April of next year, so that’ll give them time to get all the downed trees out and clean it up,” she said. It was pretty nasty, but they’ve been working pretty diligently. All the downed trees have to be cleaned up and that’s forestry’s responsibility. They’re going to re-estabilish the beach because that’s also on the registry. There’s cleanup work that the community can help with. We’re going to clean up the signs and kiosks. We have a group of community members that are going to meet and we’re going to launch our action plan: what we’re going to do, how we’re going to prioritize, how we’re going to get things done. We’re going to raise money. We have very little saved money, so it’s a lot of sweat equity right now.”
The historical society’s A.C. Weber Park at Green Lake Preservation Group has established an endowment fund at Mountain’s Flagstar Bank branch. Funds will be used to restore, protect and maintain the park. Contributions can be sent to Flagstar Bank, c/o MHS A.C. Weber Park at Green Lake Preservation Group, P.O. Box 228, Mountain, WI 54149.
There’s plenty of work to do before the park opens its doors to visitors.
“We have a lot of restoration work to do on the pavilion, but overall, it’s in great shape,” Carey-Mielke said. “We need some tuckpointing and board replacements. It’s going to be pricey and that’s because we have to follow the standards and practices set forth by the National Preservation Act. If there was a square nail used to build (the pavilion), you get a square nail. Nothing modern is going to go on there. It has to be as it was.”
She expects the pavilion to be one of the park’s major attractions.
“It’ll be the pavilion and hearth, where you can bring some firewood and have a nice fire,” she said. “We’re going to put some floodlights around for safety and security. We’re going to have picnic areas with picnic tables and grills. The pavilion is going to be reservable. We’re going to ask for donations and we’re not going to ask people to pay (to use the park). We’re hoping that people will contribute and donate.”
The society will also maintain a small boat landing, which the forest service kept open after closing the park.
“They said, ‘If you’re going to take the pavilion and the park, you might as well have the boat landing, too,’” Carey-Mielke said. “They’re going to regrade (the landing) for us, fill it in and take care of some of the brush.”
More than 50 community residents showed up at the park Sept. 9 to make plans for getting the property ready.
“I had 54 community members, people from around the lake and in town,” Carey-Mielke said. “People are thrilled. I ended up with 28 volunteers and phone numbers after that initial meeting. People have been coming in here with garbage bags picking up trash, especially at the boat landing. They didn’t think it was going to happen because they had tried before. In 2016, a group approached the forest people and they said, ‘No, it’s closed, we’re not giving you the park.’ We approached it differently. We sent them a presentation along with the story behind it.”
Although the historical society is accepting donations to help maintain the park, visitors will be able to visit the park for free. The U.S. Forest Service had a $5 daily use fee at the park for several years.
“That’s one of the reasons it closed,” Carey-Mielke said. “What they did in this area is say, ‘Well, what’s generating money?’ They didn’t get more than a couple hundred bucks out here from people who would pay. They had to take the approach of nobody’s using it because nobody’s paying.”
Carey-Mielke said the park will be open from April through late October.
“There are some great stories that have come out of here,” she said. “One person told me they were over at the Green Lake Tap, a tavern right across the road. At 9 o’clock, everyone would run across the street and go skinny dipping. It’s going to be exciting. We’ll have things cleaned up and I’d like to have an Octoberfest here next year as a community fundraiser.
“Green Lake has been an integral part of the community of Mountain for a very long time,” she added. “We want to restore it, but we want to enhance it, too. It’s going to take the community to make this work and have this for us perpetually. That’s the goal. We want to make it a go-to place.”
Greg Seubert is the sports editor of the Waupaca County Post, New London Press Star and Clintonville Tribune-Gazette.