Fox Wisconsin Heritage Parkway

A non-profit organization dedicated to the improvement and preservation of the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers.

Chapter 8: Impact Assessment

This chapter assesses the potential environmental impacts associated with the two management alternatives described in Chapter 5. Its purpose is to assess the general impacts on natural and cultural resources, socioeconomic environment, tourism, and transportation. Due to the conceptual nature of this study, the assessment does not address specific environmental impacts or development issues. Any future actions that would affect federal lands, involve federal laws, funding, or permits must comply with environmental and cultural regulations per the Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

The two management alternatives discussed in this study include a No Action/Use of Existing Authorities Alternative (Alternative 1), which serves as the baseline measure, and a National Heritage Area Designation Alternative (Alternative 2). The latter includes financial, technical and management assistance beyond those provided in the baseline measure. These two alternatives provide a contrast in long term outcomes for the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway corridor.

Management Alternative 1: No Action/Use of Existing Authorities

The Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway corridor has many localized improvement projects and programs underway that will continue with or without a NHA designation. These projects range in value and impact, from millions to thousands of dollars. These include: the EPA Fox River mandated cleanup ($700 million), restoration of the historic Fox River locks system ($12 million), restoration of the Portage Canal ($2 million), private and public river redevelopment projects in all of the major urban centers along the Parkway ($50 million +), water and land based river trail projects, preservation and protection initiatives on the Lower Wisconsin River section of the Parkway spearheaded by the Lower Wisconsin River Board, and many smaller park, open space, and public access locations developed by state, county, and local units of government. In addition, there are many private, not-for-profit historic and cultural points of interest that dot the Parkway area that provide a rich understanding of the importance of this corridor in the national context. (See Appendix B)

Under management Alternative 1, the initiatives cited above and others would most likely continue on their current independent tracks, some succeeding some failing. The fact that such major projects are underway and that very large sums of money are currently being expended speaks to the individual importance of these initiatives, but not to the potential collective benefit for the corridor. Without the unifying authority of a NHA designation, the Parkway would remain a region of disjointed efforts, lacking support and public knowledge of its collective environmental, economic, and social contributions and impacts.

Conclusion:

Based on the following information, Alternative 1 would result in continued loss of natural and cultural resources, and provide little positive impact on the socioeconomic environment and tourism. It would have no impact on transportation.

Impacts on Natural Resources

Over the last twenty years the natural environment within the Parkway corridor has improved as a result of greater emphasis on land and water stewardship as influenced by state mandated and private actions. The combined effect of these actions can be measured locally and on individual sites. An example of this is the State designated area within the jurisdiction of the Lower Wisconsin River Authority (LWRA). The LWRA has a twenty year history of positive impact on the natural environment of the Lower Wisconsin preserving landscape, improving public utilization, and educating the public on sensitive natural issues related to this section of the Parkway.

Unfortunately, there is still only limited measurable benefit to the corridor as a whole. Similar bodies to the LWRA do not exist in the remaining two-thirds of the Parkway, and the natural environment is not protected with the same vigilance. This is especially true in regions along the Lower Fox, where extensive industrial growth and urban sprawl have resulted in a deterioration of the area’s natural environment. Each year, green space along the corridor continues to decrease, with significant losses of wetlands and farmland. Development has encroached upon many animal and plant habitats, including the endangered and threatened species that live within the Parkway. Much of this is a result of poor comprehensive planning and guidelines that cause a significant threat to environmentally considerations of which local authorities are not cognizant.

Impacts on Cultural Resources

Currently cultural resources within the Parkway are of limited impact because of their isolated identity and singular mission. Most cultural resources have great potential to reveal important historic patterns of the corridor when viewed and studied in context with one and other but with rare exception these resources are stand alone. In addition to isolation, these resources are financially stressed often to the point of closure. Federal, state, local, and private funding is becoming much more competitive and resources with more restricted appeal are less likely to survive.

Impacts on the Socioeconomic Environment

The socioeconomic environment under this alternative would continue to develop in the historic haphazard fashion which exists today. There would continue to be localized positive and negative impacts throughout the corridor based on site specific projects, improvements or actions that will occur independently. This management alternative will not have a direct effect on population trends, quality of life considerations or development patterns.

Impacts on Tourism

The no action alternative will have only limited impact on tourism. At present, there are large and small projects and programs that have the potential to increase tourism within the Parkway. Projects like the Fox River Lock system restoration, the Green Bay riverfront redevelopment, the Portage canal restoration and others have good potential to increase tourism in these specific locations. Individual communities will develop attractions specific to themselves with the intent of increasing tourism but the overall impact will be minimal. New initiatives on a regional or area wide platform will not occur.

Impacts on Transportation

With this alternative there will be no impact on transportation.

Management Alternative 2: National Heritage Designation

Preferred Alternative

Establishment of a NHA will provide the framework to coordinate and enhance the many initiatives that are currently under way throughout the Parkway. The important work of PCB clean up, lock restoration, landscape preservation, and private historic preservation are all in progress right now without central coordination or a vehicle to tie them all together. The NHA designation will be the catalyst that binds these separate projects and programs into a cohesive offering that will be of much greater public benefit then they are as stand alone initiatives. Each of the major initiatives throughout the corridor has a relationship to one or more of the proposed themes, and the NHA designation will fuse these new initiatives with established elements to enhance public appeal and understanding of our themes. Finally, the designation will provide the foundation for identification, preservation, and protection of new elements for each of the themes throughout the Parkway.

Additionally, the area will benefit from a regional approach to dealing with resources, especially natural resources. The proposed Parkway area is comprised of many small townships, villages, cities, and counties. These numerous and separate forms of government make it difficult to coordinate activities. A NHA designation will allow for a continuous and cohesive approach to resources, where currently this approach starts and stops with each form of local government.

Conclusion:

Based on the following information, Alternative 2 would result in positive impacts on natural and cultural resources, the socioeconomic environment, tourism, and non-traditional forms of transportation.

Impacts on Natural Resources

The NHA designation alternative will have a positive impact on the Parkway’s natural resources. Communities and regions up and down the Parkway are paying more attention to the benefits of their localized segments of the river corridor. With designation and the technical help possible, these communities will have a better resource to rely on when contemplating changes to the status quo. The fact that many efforts have been made to improve the natural environment over the last twenty years is a tribute to individual actions taken by local, state, and private jurisdictions, with more coordination and management the isolated actions can produce a significantly higher value outcome.

Establishment of the LWRA in 1988 is a great example of and good template for natural resource enhancement throughout the Parkway. LWRA, with jurisdiction over about one-third of the Parkway distance, has worked with private landowners, public bodies, citizen groups, and individual users to promote better stewardship of the riverway and lands adjacent to the riverway. A NHA designation will bring the ability to expand this positive influence to the balance of the corridor.

Impacts on Cultural Resources

The NHA alternative provides a framework for cooperation and collaboration similar to the benefits of this alternative on natural resources. There are numerous cultural resources that tell wonderful stories of human accomplishments, trials, and experiences within the Parkway. There are sacred places, places of worship, and locations that are the foundation of the national concept of nature. The Parkway as a whole has an incredible story to tell, and without a NHA designation that lesson will be lost to the inadequacies of the individual sites and locations that struggle to meet their financial responsibilities. The opportunity to preserve and protect the cultural treasures within the Parkway corridor is adequate validation to justify designation.

Impacts on the Socioeconomic Environment

NHA designation will enhance the socioeconomic environment by enhancing tourism, elevating awareness, and increasing residents’ pride of place. The ability to infuse resources into marketing, coordinated programming, and redevelopment of buildings is the backbone to the socioeconomic benefit of a designation. Too many opportunities are foregone due to lack of sufficient technical support and capital funding. The ability to gain necessary support to take advantage of the opportunities present in the Parkway will be greatly enhanced with the designation. Local and national recognition of the Parkway as a unified entity will add to the prestige of individual components resulting in greater appeal for both public and private funding. Each leg of this corridor has significant importance and interest; however, the combined assets of the corridor far out weigh the individual assets. The socioeconomic benefit will manifest itself in better appreciation, greater recognition and improved stewardship of our cultural resources.

Impacts on Tourism

The Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway NHA will improve tourism quality attracting more local and distant visitors to the corridor. Development of the themes for the Parkway and expanded marketing for theme related opportunities will result in greater appeal and higher visibility for attractions. Current, in progress enhancements will drive more tourism in the region, however the NHA designation will package and promote the themes so more people will benefit from the story the Parkway has to tell.

Impacts on Transportation

One of the unique aspects of the Heritage Parkway is that it has a story that can be told using several modes of transportation. On land via auto, bicycle, or foot and from the water by way of motorized or paddle craft, the Parkway’s story can be explored and enjoyed. The effect of designation on non-traditional transportation will be to develop, coordinate, and identify the various paths for these multiple modes of access. Some communities, like Portage, have developed water trails, bike paths and motor tour routes to connect points of historic interest along scenic pathways thereby enhancing appeal of the community. That same concept can be integrated throughout the Parkway to embellish its story. With new routes and trails developed, transportation options throughout the Parkway will improve.

Regarding traditional transportation routes, there is some concern about increased traffic causing harm to resources, especially in the Lower Wisconsin section; we believe that carrying capacity studies will mitigate any degradation.

Conclusion:

Of the two alternatives looked at it is clear that the NHA designation will improve the quality and appreciation of the resources within the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway. Work currently underway and programs in place are a perfect foundation for a NHA designation. The opportunities present here, to tell a story of exploration, ways of life, and national treasure, need to be exploited. Without a designation there is too much pressure to ignore the importance of the corridor’s contribution to our national heritage; with the NHA designation we will secure another element in the national patchwork of our collective heritage.