Two recurring themes again cropped up during a lengthy and sometimes contentious Hill County Park Board meeting: What future should be pursued for the park, and are park users all treated the same.
Renelle Braaten, attending her first board meeting since the Hill County Commission appointed her in July to replace retiring board member Mel Gomke, said she wants to know the consensus of Hill County residents: Should the park be marketed to draw in people from out of the area, or should it be focused on local use?
“That’s what I want to know,” she said. “What’s the consensus?”
Braaten’s question came at the end of a long discussion of how the park should be managed and requests that all people using the park be treated consistently.
Cabin owner Roy Lembke told the board some people break the park regulations on how they use their leased cabin lots and are grandfathered in. Others aren’t, he said.
Lembke had built several more outbuildings at his cabin site than allowed under the regulations, saying the board or the park manager had told him he could build some more outbuildings. The park rules allow only one outbuilding along with the cabin and an outhouse.
Audience member Blanche Kellam said consistency is the key, citing an action of the board at the start of Monday’s meeting. Cabin owners are told that if they transfer their lease of park ground they and the person taking over the lease have to attend a park board meeting to get the board’s approval — but the board approved two transfers without any of the parties present Monday.
“It’s a pretty simple rule, so just don’t approve any before they come,” she said.
When board chair Steve Mariani asked what it was people want from the park and the board, audience member Lowell Alcock echoed Lembke and Kellam.
“Basically, fair and consistent is what we want,” he said.
Several people suggested that changes could be made in the leases of cabin sites to clear up any confusion, such as specifying any variations on the rules grandfathered in for particular sites.
Board members cited a policy put in place last spring requiring people to apply to the board for variances on park regulations, with an additional fee charged if the variance is granted. But, board chair Steve Mariani said, maybe the board should look again at changing how the lease is written.
Board member Robbie Lucke, who said a committee tasked to examine the fee structure at the park would meet later this month, said that committee could look at the way the leases are written, as it has before.
Several board members said part of the problem is determining what the vision is for the park.
Park board member and Hill County Commissioner Mark Peterson said what some people — including Lembke — have done at their cabins is not his idea of going out to a cabin in Beaver Creek Park. If people want all of the amenities of town, they could bring out a 30-foot trailer, rather than upgrading their cabins to have six sheds and a washer and dryer, he said.
He apologized to Lembke for singling out his cabin, but the board is trying to bring its policy together and become consistent, Peterson said.
“But that’s where we’re coming from,” he said. “We’ve got to start somewhere.”
He said the main question is, what do the county residents want.
“I would really like to know what the 17,000 people of Hill County want from that park,” he said.
Lembke said he has the same question, and asked if the board should be keeping policies that were in place 50 years ago — do times change, and things change?
Mariani said he wants to keep the rural, rustic nature of Beaver Creek Park, rather than modernizing and commercializing the park. But the board needs to find out what the county residents want, he added..
Audience member Lou Hagener, who started a drive to create a strategic plan and vision for the park a few years ago, told Braaten after her question that what people want from the park completely varies from person to person.
“People I talk to are all over the board in what they want,” Hagener said. “That’s a very good question, what are we going to do? I don’t think there’s a good answer.”
Kellam suggested holding public forums, possibly with very specific questions for each forum, to find out what the people of Hill County want.
While the park board meetings may be public, she said, the structure and limited format for comments may discourage people from coming and voicing their opinions.
“You need to hold two or three public forums,” Kellam said.