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Testing the limits: Police trying to address speed on Highway 2
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Wisconsin State Patrol Trooper Andrew Seitz was driving along Lake Shore Drive in Ashland and activated his radar. Within seconds, he had his first pinch: A motorist going 44 mph in a 25-mph zone near Prentice Avenue.

The stretch of Highway 2 running through Ashland has become notorious for the number of motorists who use it more as a runway than a road. The problem was brought into tragic relief earlier this year when a woman and her daughter were killed when they slammed into a car driven by state Sen. Janet Bewley. State Patrol crash reconstruction experts found that the woman was driving at 100 mph just before impact.

Police — both local and state — said they try to monitor traffic on the road and write citations. But they also said other responsibilities make it difficult to patrol Highway 2 as often as they would like.

That’s what Seitz was doing Wednesday morning — with an Ashland Daily Press reporter in his squad to try to assess just how bad the problem is.

After handing that first motorist a ticket for driving 10 mph over the speed limit, Seitz went back to patrolling near Maslowski Beach.

Again, it was moments before he pulled over a motorist traveling 67 mph.

He cut the driver a break with a warning because a passenger reportedly was late for an appointment. Heading back toward town, again he caught a driver near McDonald’s going 43 mph in a 25 mph zone.

Wisconsin State Patrol Trooper Andrew Seitz uses his radar gun to track the speed of traffic along Highway 2 on Ashland’s west side. (Tom Stankard/Staff photo)

This time, he handed out a citation.

In a matter of about 90 minutes, Seitz issued two tickets and two warnings to motorists on Highway 2 — a “light day,” he said.

“I cited one for going 70 in a 45 mph zone recently. It’s pretty consistent day-to-day,” he said. “I’m handing out between three and seven citations every day. I don’t do it to hand out tickets. I do this to make the road safer.”

Seitz has been patrolling in Ashland since summer and hopes his presence encourages motorists to slow down.

The crash involving Bewley was noteworthy not just for who was involved and how fast one car was driving, but it wasn’t an anomaly. Speeding was a factor in 35% of fatal crashes in Wisconsin in 2020 and 29% across the country.

As a result, 11,258 people were killed in the U.S. in 10,136 crashes — an average of over 30 deaths per day, according to the National Safety Council. Of those, 216 fatal crashes in the Badger State involved speeding.

The Bewley crash prompted one reader to send the Daily Press an email asking if Highway 2 is being monitored at all, and if it were, would it have prevented the crash from happening.

“If you’re driving on US2 at the speed limit of 25 mph, you are assuredly passed by vehicles going much faster. How often do you see someone who has been speeding stopped by a police officer?” the reader asked.

Photoby Tom Stankard 

Police are trying to do more to monitor speed on Lake Shore Drive in Ashland with additional patrols and radar signs that tell drivers how fast they’re going.

Ashland Police Chief Bill Hagstrom said he would love to have an officer monitor Lake Shore Drive speeds more often. But their primary duty is to respond to calls for an officer, and he’s already short-staffed.

So police have done the next best thing: installed radar signs that show the speed of passing cars on Lake Shore Drive, to encourage motorists to watch how fast they’re going, Hagstrom said.

“This is recorded. It takes fastest speed, average speed and how many cars,” he said.

More of those signs are on the way, perhaps by the pedestrian cross walk near Walmart, he said.

The signs do prompt some drivers to slow down, but they don’t appear to be solving the problem. People tend to speed down Lake Shore Drive for several reasons, Seitz said.

“Lots of people who have lived here for awhile have gotten comfortable driving those speeds. During the summertime, Ashland is also a big tourist attraction,” Seitz said.

Seeing a trooper on the road has definitely gotten passing motorists to slow down, he said. Seitz hopes it won’t take long for Lake Shore Drive to lose its speeding reputation.

Enforcing the speed limit has garnered mixed reviews, however.

“I get people thanking me for keeping speeds down, focusing on traffic. The other 30% are not happy about getting a speeding citation,” Seitz said. “I can’t take it to heart. No one likes getting a ticket.”


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Big Top adds new venue for year-round shows
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Music and the other acts that keep crowds of people coming to Big Top Chautauqua will now be available year-round with the opening of a new entertainment venue to be known as The Backstage.

The new performance center will be at the Big Top headquarters, box office and gift shop at 84810 Highway 13, just south of Bayfield. The newly remodeled building, formerly known as the Northern Edge and Fore ‘n Aft restaurant, has been occupied by Big Top for about a year, while final renovations including work on The Backstage were completed.

The new venue will be inaugurated Dec. 16 and 17 with three performances by the Big Top house band, the Blue Canvas Orchestra.

“I think this is going to be the new year-round home of the Blue Canvas Orchestra,” said Big Top Executive Director Terry Matier. “They perform up on the big stage in the summer, but they rehearse all of their shows, and they will be able to rehearse with their professional stage sound and lighting setup here, and they will be able to do performances in the off season.”

Matier said the new location allows the group to perform as a whole orchestra or in smaller, more intimate groups while the Big Top’s summer performances will remain under the blue-and-white tent at the base of Mt. Ashwabay.

The Backstage is at the Big Top’s headquarters in a refurbished restaurant, which has just added a music-themed sculpture by Washburn artist Jesse Woodward. (Rick Olivo/Staff photo)

“They can try different things and we can have some have some impromptu fun nights here,” she said.

Blue Canvas Musical Director Ed Willett intends to “lead the audience through a lot of deep and heartfelt emotions and leave them happy and inspired.”

It’s not just music that will attract folks to the event center, Matier said. The Backstage is equipped with a full kitchen and bar, so drinks and food will be available for the Big Top’s inaugural Christmas event.

“Our chef, Kirk Bratrud, who has cooked for the artists and crews of the acts performing at Big Top, has created a unique menu of shareable plates that include flatbreads, kebabs, samosas and egg rolls,” Matier said. “The bar will serve beer, wine, cocktails and specialty drinks, including our new signature Blue Canvas Classic, created just for us by celebrity bartender David Sneed of the 211 Martini Bar.”

Matier said the Christmas shows will be the first of many that would be taking place at the backstage.

“For people living in the area, it will give them something to do in the offseason,” she said. “If you want to go out on a Saturday night, well, there are great places to have a meal, but there are not really a lot of places where you can see a performance. We will have more musical things here, focusing on the theatrical more, and residents will have some options about things to do.”

The event center will also allow Big Top to host events that may not be suited for the Big Top tent.

“Here we can try some things with local performers and some traveling performers that we may not be able to have on the big stage,” she said

Blue Top Orchestra member Phillip Anich said he and other musicians are eager to perform in the new venue. (Contributed photo)

Phillip Anich, a member of the Blue Canvas Orchestra and retired Big Top operations manager, said musicians are eager to try out the new space.

“We live to perform,” he said. “To do that, we need to rehearse, too, and with this beautiful space and new sound system, we can come in and set up easily. It’s a dream world, absolutely gorgeous. And the great joy is that we will be able to do shows in the off-season without a lot of rigmarole, renting spaces and all that.”

Carol Fahrenkrog, executive director for the Bayfield Chamber and Visitor’s Bureau, said The Backstage also promises to bring in business during the difficult months between November and spring.

“It could have wonderful impact for winter tourism,” she said “One of the initiatives that the Bayfield chamber is continuing is to ramp up winter tourism. Adding music to that makes a beautiful picture,” she said. “We are excited right now. I know they are hoping to have events once a month. And we are waiting to get those dates so we can help put packages out there, let the lodging and restaurant folks know.”

Fahrenkrog

Fahrenkrog said the winter season has great opportunity for growth, and events at The Backstage can attract more visitors who stick around for other winter activities such as skiing, winter hiking and snowshoeing.

“This is really just going to add to that,” she said.


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Bayfield County developments get green light; Washburn housing, Bayfield hotel projects move forward
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A pair of developments in Washburn and Bayfield moved forward this week with approvals from the Bayfield County Board.

Cinnaire Solutions, a Michigan-based developer, received approval to develop a $10 million housing project on 9.5 acres of county-owned land in the city of Washburn. Cinnaire had earlier been selected from five candidates by the county’s Executive Committee to build the project, but board approval was needed for Cinnaire to be eligible for tax credits from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.

In addition, the board approved a memorandum of understanding between the county and 200 Rittenhouse Avenue, a company that wants to restore and redevelop the historic St. James Hotel property in Bayfield’s downtown for use as a boutique hotel and lounge to be known as St. James Social.

Original plans called for a 40-unit housing development  to be built adjacent to the Washburn nursing home, but developers have upped that to about 50. (Photo contributed by Bayfield County)

The county has applied for $250,000 in grants from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to assist with the project. Those funds require an equal dollar match from other sources, which the memorandum of understanding said would be more than satisfied by public and private investment in the project.

Speaking remotely to board members, St. James Social project manager Annalisa Bermel said she has been working on doing a proper historic restoration of the property for about a year.

“We are really close to being able to start on construction,” she said, saying that the WEDC grant was “absolutely critical” to taking a building of its size and dilapidated condition and converting it into a business that makes economic sense.

She said that the project has been working with the state historic preservation office and the National Park Service to ensure that the building’s historic integrity was honored.

“WEDC has been generally supportive of this project because of its ability to revitalize an otherwise underutilized structure downtown, creating more jobs,” she said.

The board also unanimously approved selection of Cinnaire to develop the housing project in Washburn. Cinnaire Solutions Development Manager Jerrell Harris told the board that his firm was immediately interested in the project when they saw the request for proposals.

“It really spoke to us because it is not often that we find communities that are so welcoming for new housing options, that are really focused on providing affordable housing for their residents,” he said.

Harris said the original proposal had called for about 40 housing units, but that number has increased to about 50 to 56, because a berm that exists at the project site can be removed, freeing up more of the property for housing.

“We are still working through some of the details with the architects, so it is not set in stone yet,” he said.

Harris said the project still had to “work through about a million pieces of paper” in order to get the grant funding, but he expects the project will succeed.

“The project is very competitive. We believe it is going to score very well, and we are very confident that we are going to get awarded tax credits that are very critical to getting this project done,” he said.

Harris said the next step for the project was to prepare the WHEDA application, which is due Jan. 27.

“I am very optimistic about it. I think we put together a great proposal. Cinnaire Solutions has been very successful in securing tax credits from WHEDA. We have a great team working on it, the full support of the city and the county, which is crucial to putting together a strong application,” he said.


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