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Wednesday, 30 December 2015 11:11

Walworth County Sunday's 2015 year in review

Written by  CSI Media staff
A plan was floated last spring to reroute South Lake Shore Drive along the eastern edge of Geneva Lake. Officials said moving the road into Big Foot Beach State Park would ease erosion concerns and improve the beach. The plan ran into a roadblock, though, because of citizen opposition and a lack of tax incremental financing from the city of Lake Geneva. A plan was floated last spring to reroute South Lake Shore Drive along the eastern edge of Geneva Lake. Officials said moving the road into Big Foot Beach State Park would ease erosion concerns and improve the beach. The plan ran into a roadblock, though, because of citizen opposition and a lack of tax incremental financing from the city of Lake Geneva. Terry Mayer

WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- Sometimes it seems like the days take forever, but the months fly by.   

   In a year that seemed to pass in the blink of an eye, some of the most notable stories of 2015 clearly illustrated how quickly things can change in our communities.

And some of those stories showed how, even as time moves on, we still cling tightly to our familiar and cherished ways.

As we begin a new year, we look back on these five stories that stood out in a year that showed us how much life can change, whether we’re ready or not:

1. Lake Geneva’s most scenic drive avoids reroute

In May, staff writer Dennis Hines reported on what could have become a major change for those who travel along Lake Shore Drive on the eastern edge of Geneva Lake.

A plan by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources would move the road, known to locals as Paradise Drive, into Big Foot Beach State Park several hundred feet and loop it around the lagoon.

Jeff Prey, DNR program and policy analyst, said South Lake Shore Drive needs to be rerouted because of erosion that occurs from the lake onto the road. He said rerouting the road also would provide more space for the beach and improved access to the park.

Lake Geneva Public Works Director Dan Winkler said the water currently erodes the shoulder of the road and should be addressed before the situation becomes worse.

“Subsequently, the water will erode onto the road and then nothing can be done,” Winkler said. “Right now, the water erodes on the shoulder area. The edge of the road could wash away if nothing is done.”

But after opposition to the plan began to grow, the Lake Geneva City Council on April 28 pulled the reroute from a list of projects under consideration for tax incremental financing.

Without TIF money from the city, there’s no way to fund the project.

Casey Schiche, president of the opposition group Care for Lake Geneva, said the proposal is dead, at least for now.

2. When the going gets tough, some go online

In an age when technology is ingrained in everyday life, some experts liken social media to support groups.

Such was the case for Delavan resident Bridget McCarthy, who shared her story of coping and courage.

After her young daughter, Avery, died in 2012, McCarthy turned to Facebook or her blog, reading comments from people who let her know they cared.

“Social media saved me when Avery died,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said the Internet gives people unsure of how to proceed in a sensitive situation a way to unobtrusively offer condolences or encouragement.

Jeff Borchardt started the website for Daxton's Friends for Canine Education and Awareness, a nonprofit organization, after his14-month-old son, Daxton, was fatally mauled by two pit bulls while at his baby sitter’s home in Walworth in 2013.

In the midst of his grief, he read nasty online comments about himself, wife and son by people -- many of them pit bull owners -- who trolled the site.

But Borchardt said hundreds of readers have offered him support and thanks for helping determine which dog breeds work best for them.

Jacey Powers started a video blog, or vlog, called “That Time I Had Cancer” after getting a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2013.

Encouraged by her friends and comfortable in front of a camera, she did the blog as a series of short films -- laced with information and humor -- while she was going through chemotherapy.

“I wanted to share my story in this way, and I think it’s a story worth telling,” Powers said. “Even if one person sees it and relates to it or learns something new, that’s worth it right there.”

3. U.S. 14 route still not squared away

A planned reroute of U.S. Highway 14 by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation that would affect traffic in the village of Walworth and drew criticism from residents remains in limbo.

DOT officials say the re-route of an approximately 13-mile stretch of U.S. 14 is needed because increased traffic volume has created safety problems.

Plans began in 2009 and originally construction was slated to run from 2014 to 2017. Last fall, a DOT communications manager said bid-letting for the project should begin in September 2019. Construction is currently scheduled to start in 2020. 

As part of its highway reconfiguration plan, the DOT purchased the antique mall on the square and razed the building last summer.

Many Walworth residents see a problem with one of the DOT’s route options. While an east alternative plan retains the square and keeps the traffic pattern the same, a west alternative moves the highway close to a drop-off site for students at Walworth Elementary School, 121 Beloit St.

The west alternative was adopted by the Walworth village board in 2011.

A grassroots campaign in opposition to the route continues.

Village Trustee Tom Connelly said he is exploring an alternative truck route.

Wisconsin's reduced transportation budget means cuts in a number of major highway projects, but whether the U.S. 14 project will be included or delayed isn't yet known.

4. Drive-ins satisfy taste for nostalgia

Entrepreneurs have been offering roadside food like burgers and shakes for drivers as far back as the 1920s, but drive-ins were golden in the 1950s.

The explosion of fast-food chains saw them fade, but a few area drive-ins still operate, even thrive.

Annie’s Burger Town in Elkhorn is a converted Dog n Suds that’s now a year-round drive-in (they close briefly for the holidays) with a menu that includes homemade Italian beef and soups.

“You can still walk up to the Burger Town,” said owner Jeff Halpin.

Gus’s Drive-in in East Troy features plenty of glowing neon, a custard-of-the-day menu and even a classic car night that draws car buffs for miles around.

Bing’s Drive-in, a 60-year-old Rockford, Illinois, landmark, boasts outdoor menus with built-in speakers.

Former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith once dropped in at the Dog n Suds in Richmond, Illinois, where the sign proclaims it was established in 1963. Owner Matt Maciejewski said people are surprised to see car hops bringing their orders.

Ken Kline purchased the A&W Restaurant in Janesville in 1976. Now his son, Bob, is the owner.  

“Back in the early ’50s and ’60s, there were four drive-ins in a half-mile strip here,” Ken Kline said. “Now we’re the only one left.”

5. Racing to survive?

Harness racers took the reins at the 2015 Walworth County Fair just as they have for decades past, but perhaps with less certainty about the future of their beloved activity.

New fair manager Larry Gaffey said improved attendance for harness racing is key to help pay for horse track maintenance costs.

“It costs quite a bit of money to keep the track up for (the races), and I think we’ve got three stalls that have horses in them right now,” Gaffey said in August. “There’s just not enough stall revenue to cover the expenses of it.”

Longtime participant Cliff O’Beirne said harness racing remains a popular attraction at the fair, although attendance isn’t what it once was.

“There’s always been a good turnout at the Walworth County Fair,” O’Beirne said. “It’s not as good as in the past. People used to line up around the track to see the races, but still a lot of people attend the fair to watch harness racing.”

Gabe Wand, president of the Wisconsin Harness Horse Association, said the Walworth County Fair is one of the more popular Wisconsin harness racing events.

“We get a very good crowd,” Wand said.

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