By JEFF BOLLIER
Green Bay Press-Gazette
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Charlie Frisk found himself in Rick Berken’s basement in March 1997 plotting to preserve 40 acres of woodland along Baird Creek Drive in Green Bay.
At the time, a developer had asked the city to rezone the property to allow a luxury housing development on the hilly terrain south of Baird Creek, the Green Bay Press-Gazette reported. Environmentally minded residents in the area, such as Frisk and Berken, let the City Council know they had a different idea: Add it to the Baird Creek Greenway.
“We won by one vote. One alderman goes the other way and the crown jewel of the greenway would have been a housing development,” Frisk said. “But the mayor (Paul Jadin) said we had to raise $200,000 to buy the property from the developer. It took us a year to do it, but we did.”
The residents decided to call themselves the Baird Creek Preservation Foundation. Their challenge of the housing development began an ongoing mission to expand, preserve and maintain the sprawling greenway that continues today. The group celebrates its anniversary with a banquet and presentation Monday night on the greenway’s history, growth and popularity with Green Bay area residents over eight decades.
“Without them involved from the beginning stages, I don’t think we’d have as much preserved as we do out there now,” Green Bay Park Design and Development Superintendent Dan Ditscheit said. “It’s been a great team approach as we work with them on property acquisition, trail construction and maintenance, invasive plant removals, garbage cleanup and general public education.”
After 20 years, Frisk estimates the foundation has acquired and donated at least 80 acres to the 600-acre greenway that starts around Henry Avenue and fans out to the north and south as it approaches Huron Road and rural areas outside the city limits.
It’s so huge, there’s something for virtually everyone to enjoy spread across an area that dwarfs traditional city parks.
“It’s a four-hour hike. One way,” Frisk says. “Pack a lunch. And water.”
Mountain bikers frequent the Mars loop trail. Winter sports fans fill Triangle Sports Area when the weather cooperates. Walkers and have several miles of paved trail. And environmentalists have 18 distinct ecological zones that support more than 400 varieties of plants and trees.
“It’s got an appeal to so many groups year-round,” Foundation Interim Director Holly Baseman said.
It all started with a sledding hill.
The park has grown in three broad phases that continue to this day.
In 1934, the city acquired 194 acres of land along Baird Creek and turned part of it into a sledding hill. The state declined a couple of appeals to make it a state park in the ensuing decades.
In the late 1960s, Green Bay and Brown County committed to expand the greenway. The county acquired 165 acres, and the city bought 133 acres. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation in 1984 donated 34 more acres of land that was left over after Interstate 43 was completed.
The Baird Creek Preservation Foundation has worked to expand the greenway since 1997.
Last month, Brown County transferred the 154 acres it owned the greenway to the city, consolidating ownership and saving the county $18,000.
Ditscheit said the foundation and the city are both looking for ways to add more land to the greenway as the city grows to the east.
“Park expansion is a priority as we move forward with development in the city, but we’ll also look at doing projects in the greenway we already own,” Ditscheit said. “We take every opportunity we can to acquire properties as the east side develops.”
As important to the foundation as the greenway’s growth, is its preservation.
The group plants native species to keep the natural surroundings thriving. But their main task has become battling invasive species. A contractor could help, but the donations aren’t quite there right now.
“We’re holding our own right now,” Frisk said. “Our goal is to turn the corner in the next five or 10 years.”
“The foundation is keeping the invasives at bay,” Baseman said. “And it’s all volunteer-driven. We accomplish what we do all on a volunteer basis.”
Ditscheit said the foundation has built a relationship with the city that is unique and vital to the area.
“They help wherever they can,” he said. “They’re really very active and passionate about what they do.”