I answer the question, “Where are you from?” with “I’m from West Point, Wisconsin.” I am proud of my town in the southwest corner of Columbia County and I always share some of the gems and little-known facts. West Point is home to two segments of the Ice Age National Trail. Gibraltar Rock State Natural Area is here. I say that an observant visitor to West Point will find rare plants like the Yellow Water Lily here. Questioners usually ask, again, “Where are you from?”
I say, “If you’ve taken the Merrimac Ferry, you’ve been in West Point. The ferry stops in West Point. If you’ve come to Prairie du Sac for Eagle Watching Days or watched the release of a raptor at VFW Park, you’ve been looking across the river at scenic West Point.
Barbara Katz’s book “So Cranes May Dance” prompted Laura and my first visit to this area. An April drive through a light snow along Highway 188 with a realtor unfamiliar with West Point found our house.
Watching a nesting pair of cranes south of our house raise one or two chicks every year helps keep us anchored here. I tell my West Point story and share my delight in watching those magnificent birds.
I always hear a surprised, “Wow! It’s beautiful there.” West Point is beautiful. From the ferry to Crystal Lake and from the dam at Prairie du Sac to the view north at the junction of Chrisler and Van Ness Roads the scenery in all seasons is spectacular. West Point’s beauty is highlighted in the 2015 movie “Uncle John.” Photos of Angie and Alan Treinen’s Trilobite corn maze were featured in two national magazines last year, Smithsonian and Science.
This year the town board and Plan Commission are working on revisions to both West Point’s Comprehensive Plan and Land Division Ordinance. The work is a bit policy heavy and can be pedantic, too. I encourage participation in the process, even knowing that. These two documents are guides to development in West Point. They are public documents and clarify our town’s vision of who we are.
Our current plan states, “Development in the Town of West Point consists of hundreds of decisions each year by unrelated individuals about how the land is to be used. Generally these decisions conform to tradition, but each has the potential to conflict with neighboring uses and each represents a step toward the land use pattern for the future. Without a plan, landowners have no guidance in making land use decisions and property owners have no protection from decisions that may not be in their best interest.”
The population of West Point has increased almost 17 percent since I moved my family here in 2002. West Point is changing as its population is growing. The documents we are working on now will help us guide that growth and change. Our Plan Commission meets the first and third Thursdays of each month at 7 p.m. These are public meetings. Public comment is welcome and encouraged. The past four meetings have included time in break out sessions working on our planning document and on our land division ordinance.
We are experiencing extraordinary change. Broadband and the Internet have changed the way we are educated. Both Lodi and Sauk Prairie schools distribute computers to all high school students and homework is turned in electronically. The majority of West Point has no broadband access. Deregulation in telecommunication and shifting regulation of broadband have created a broadband environment described by some as the Wild West.
We are shifting toward a transportation system that is less reliant on privately owned internal combustion powered vehicles. Phoenix, Arizona just authorized a several hundred vehicle fleet of fully autonomous vehicles to provide taxi-like service. Even if that change doesn’t show itself in West Point for ten or fifteen years, now is the time for us to plan for what that change will bring. More of us are looking for additional ways to walk and bicycle, not as play or recreation, but for transportation. More adults 18-35 years old do not have driver’s licenses today and the number of people not getting licensed to drive is growing.
Wisconsin has too few mental health providers for the amount of care that is requested. An initiative in southwest Wisconsin between UW-Madison and Southwest Wisconsin Community Action Program is looking to bring mental health services into rural areas using telemedicine. That project is only one of many working to expand opportunities for us to get basic health care using available technology at home. The doctor making house calls today visits through a broadband connection over a computer. As West Point’s baby boomers age and want to stay at home, telemedicine helps.
The budget for this planning is not what it was 10 years ago. We have no additional funds. There have been changes in state priorities for funding in the last ten years. Those changes have not decreased our need for good plans nor for good documents to guide local governance. Instead of hiring consultants, we are capitalizing on local expertise.
When I talk to West Point residents, I hear a strong desire to preserve the rural character and maintain the beauty of the area. I also hear a strong desire to maintain our roads, our access, and to help us stay connected. I have been asked several times to start a newsletter to keep people informed. We have no budget for that. We do have public meetings and we have local press. The Enterprise covers town board meetings and helps share what is happening in West Point. If you are from West Point, tell your story and tell people where you’re from.