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County proposes charging no fees for forest trail events

Sawyer County's Land, Water and Forest Resources Committee on Jan. 8 approved a resolution not to charge user fees for the events using county forest trails (such as the American Birkebeiner, Chequamegon Mountain Bike Festival, Hayward Lions Pre-Birkie and ATV and snowmobile poker runs).

The committee reviewed reports showing that 75% to 90% of silent sports users of the county forest trails are non-local. In total, there were 14,843 silent sports event participants on the forest trails last year. Most of those nonlocal participants (9,000) are Birkebeiner skiers.

A 2014 UW-Extension study estimated that each silent sports participant spends an average of $260 per year in the area, or a total of $3,859,050 per year, including $2,728,050 spent by Birkebeiner participants.

Ben Popp, executive director for the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF), said the Birkie's economic impact also includes $2,550,000 spent by skiers each year in communities within a 50-mile radius of Hayward.

The Birkie Foundation also spends $395,000 per year on

maintaining the Birkie Trail. Of this, $112,000 is derived from trail pass user fees.

"Our operating budget this year is about $3.5 million and 90 percent of that comes from over 50 miles away," Popp said. "Ninety percent of that is spent in this local community."

Popp said almost 1,200 people used the new Samuel C. Johnson Family Outdoor Center at the Highway 00 trailhead in just one day from Dec. 25-29. "The volume of use has been just awesome," he said. "A lot of those people are from the local area."

The ABSF made donations totaling $80,500 to community groups in 2019, including $45,000 to the Hayward School District, $15,000 to organizations that volunteer and $15,500 to the North End Ski Club, CAMBA and others, Popp said.

Also the Birkie paid $26,400 to Sawyer County for services (sheriff's department, search and rescue, highway department and ambulance service), Popp added. Moreover, the Birkie Trail has spawned five real estate developments in the Hayward-Seeley area for residents and second home owners, Popp said.

The resolution passed by the committee says other organized events also generate "a significant positive economic impact for the county" each year, including $240,000 in state motorized trail money spent on maintenance.

The figures do not include CAMBA mountain bike events (a study is being performed) or the amount spent in the local area by out of town ATV and snowmobile riders.

By contrast, other communities actually pay organizers to attract events to their locality, such as Visit Cook County for the Lutsen 49er mountain bike race ($20,000) and Visit Milwaukee for their triathlon ($40,000), Popp indicated.

"We (the county) pay nothing for the Birkie," said committee chairman Bruce Paulsen.

The resolution states that other than staff costs associated with ATV and snowmobile trails (estimated at $40,000), Sawyer County's costs to maintain and motorized and non-motorized tails "is negligible."

The silent sports community has agreed to contribute $20,000 in 2020 for the improvement of parks and trails in the Sawyer County Forest. The committee is

'I choose Sawyer County'
Video aims to attract young professionals

"I had kind of been thinking it would be a great spot to retire, and then I realized I didn't have to wait until I retire to move up here," said Hayward attorney Desmonde Bennett.

Following Bennett in a four-minute video are a number of young professionals in their 20s and 30s, all of whom speak about the reasons they live and work in a rural county known best for its large outdoor events and silent sports attractions rather than as base for a life and professional career.

"We loved the school district and have made great friends," says bank president Mike Stamp. "It's a great place to raise kids."

Later he adds, "If you are thinking of moving to the Hayward area, I think you should do it."

Amanda Wilson, seated next to husband Nathan Reynolds, talks of pursuing their goal of owning a Northwoods resort.

A business strategist and Lac Court Oreilles (LCO) member says his children love the access to all the outdoor activities: hiking, biking, canoeing and kayaking.

"This is going to be your chance to escape from the every day hustle and bustle," says personal banker Taylor Nelson, also a LCO member. "You can really separate yourself from work."

General Manager Kaci Robotka says the Village of

Winter is an "extremely affordable place to live," and adds, "I like the school district. All the teachers are absolutely wonderful. The community leaders, church leaders, they are all very open. I absolutely love having my child in the community."

She also says her family can launch an ATV trip right from Winter on the Tuscobia Trail.

Beer and coffee bar owner Ian Finch says he had never skied or biked much before moving to Sawyer County, but that all changed after he made the move.

Hayward Community School District Supt. Craig Olson talked about living his dream job and in his free time having easy access to outdoor activities like fishing and snowmobiling.

The video is a collabo ration of the Hayward Lakes Visitors and Convention Bureau (HLVCB), the Sawyer County/Lac Courte Oreilles Economic Development Corp (SC/LCOEDC) and the Hayward Area Chamber of Commerce (HACC).

It was produced by James Netz Photography/Due North Digital.

"Our goal was to encourage people to consider Sawyer County as a place to live, work and play," said Lynn Fitch, president of SC/LCOEDC. "The primary goal was to recruit workers."

Chris Ruckdaschel, executive director of HACC, said like many areas of the country, one of the biggest economic challenges for Sawyer County is attracting a quality workforce.

"Because of the many desirable characteristics of our area — small town sense of community, abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities and scenery, diversity of amenities without big city hustle/bustle, just to name a few — we know that there are folks out there that would love to call Sawyer County home," he said. "Our interviewees in the video provide real life testimonials of why they've chosen Sawyer County, and we believe this video can provide inspiration for some considering making Sawyer County home."

After watching the video a couple of times, it does conjure up thoughts of all the great reasons for living here and all the other reasons Sawyer County is great place to call home.

The video can be seen on the Sawyer County Record Facebook page and at the following locations: www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCg_lbFuVU; sclcoedc.com/choosesawyercounty; and www.youtube.com/channel/UCaMvpVmpI3gZzf3u2Zwv6Ag.

Round Lake may be the 5th township to adopt a room tax

On Feb. 13, the Town of Round Lake Board of Supervisors will consider adopting an ordinance to implement a room tax, a tax on lodging.

With one abstaining member, the board voted Thursday, Jan. 9, to place the room tax proposal on the Feb. 13 agenda. If the board adopts the room tax ordinance, it would become the fifth municipality in the county to add the tax, joining the City of Hayward and the towns of Hayward, Lenroot and Hunter.

In 2018, the Town of Hunter was the most recent municipality to adopt the tax.

In Wisconsin, cities, villages and towns are allowed to pass a room tax ordinance, charging a percentage of lodging expense.

Seventy percent of room tax proceeds are designated to go to an agency promoting tourism and the remaining 30% can be used by the municipality.

In 2017, Sawyer County passed a resolution asking local municipalities to adopt a room tax to generate funds for tourism marketing so the county wouldn't have to spend its levy dollars. In 2020, the county will spend $50,000 to support the Hayward Lakes Visitor & Convention Bureau (HLVCB).

In 2018, representative of the HLVCB and supporters petitioned several towns to adopt a 4 percent room tax. Hunter was the only town that approved the measure.

In 2018, there was opposition in several towns over concerns the tax would add to lodging cost and drive tourism away, but HLVCB representatives argued that room taxes are universal taxes which visitors are accustomed to paying. They argued the resulting tax revenue spent on marketing would create a more vibrant tourism industry.

The Town of Hunter divides its lodging tax revenues between the Hayward Lakes Visitors & Convention Bureau (HLVCB) and the Lake Chippewa Flowage Association.

At the Jan. 9 meeting, Town of Hunter Clerk Patricia Swaffield said the township's

30 percent for two quarters in 2018 and all of 2019 amounted to nearly $92,000.

In her presentation to the board in 2018, Sherry Beckman, executive director of HLVCB, said 39 private homes in the town were designated as tourist rooming houses (TRH) offering short-term rentals. Today there are 45 TRHs.

Along with the 45 private homes, she noted there are 15 resorts — or 60 entities all told in the town — that provide lodging for rent.

Beckman said the HLVCB had estimated the 30 percent cut for one town to be $28,000 for the year. For the Town of Hunter, that turned out to be a conservative estimate.

After the meeting, Beckman told the Record her estimate had been for the Town of Hunter, which far surpassed the estimate, and she noted a 30 percent conservative estimate for the Town of Round Lake is $11,000 for the year.

Beckman was asked if any Round Lake businesses had been helped by HLVCB marketing. She responded that most resorts and lodges do not do their own advertising.

"Our vacation guide is sometimes the only piece of advertising they do," she said. "Our main objective is to get people here to spend the night. We don't do a lot of local advertising. Everything we do is an hour out or at least 60 miles out because we want them to come and spend the night. We want day trippers, too, but we really want them here overnight."

"Has anyone talked with our 60 businesses to ask them how they feel about a room tax?" asked Supervisor Sharon Haak. Chairman Rolfe Hanson said there had not been a complete canvas of the businesses but he had previously "anecdotally" talked to some.

"Could be something we should look at," Hanson said.

A question was raised about how much "additional work" would be created collecting and disbursing the room tax. Swaffield said she and the Town of Hunter treasurer had spent most of their effort setting up the room tax, and then it was mostly the work of the treasurer to get forms out and collect the tax.

"The treasurer does the bulk of work after that," Swaffield said. "It's not a lot of work. Sometimes you have to remind people to get their money in."

She added that the room tax is due the month after the quarter ends.

Speaking in favor of passing a room tax was Tatum Treland, a fourth-generation resorter whose family owns resorts in two towns that have a room tax, Hayward and Hunter, as well as in Round Lake.

Contrary to the criticism that a room tax would turn business away in Hunter, Treland said, it hadn't, and neither had it affected tourism in the Town of Hayward, where the tax has been in existence for many years.

Treland said visitors do not make their choice of lodging based on whether a room tax is applied because they are accustomed to paying such a tax wherever they travel.

"It's no work at all," Treland said of preparing the payment.

She also noted that when lodgers ask about prices that taxes are not typically spelled out and that doesn't dissuade lodgers.

Amanda Wilson, owner of Deerfoot Lodge in Hunter and president of HLVCB, said occupancy for her lodge in Hunter is up and also up for other resorts in the town after a room tax was applied there.

"We have not lost rentals as a result of having a room tax," she said. "I think people are used to paying it wherever they go."

She also discussed the advantage of passing the tax.

"It benefits the locals without the additional tax or expense to the locals," Wilson said. "It is something the tourist is paying for at a place that they cherish and to cover the expenses they incur by the municipalities."

Wilson said it is not just the rental owners who needed to be consulted but all taxpayers because the tax would add additional revenue for the whole town and would benefit all residents.

"The one thing I've heard from those who were on the fence before in Hunter is, 'Wow, there's a lot of money that is being reinvested in our community,'" Wilson said.

John Myhre, fishing guide for 40 years, outdoor radio host and one-time lodging owner, encouraged passage of a room tax.

"The one thing I learned is that marketing is absolutely huge," he said. "I don't care what it is, marketing is the number-one thing that is going to sell it, whether that's lodging or anything else. It costs money and we need to market to get people to this area. We have so much competition out there. I'm pretty tied to the outdoors industry because I do the radio show as well, so I know about Minnesota, Dakotas and Michigan. We need marketing here because we have a lot of competition . . . and that's where it will come from is (the) room tax."

Bruce Paulsen, chair of the Sawyer County Finance Committee, reminded the audience about the county board's resolution urging towns to pass the room tax.

"Why does Sawyer County want you to pass the room tax?" he asked. "Because Sawyer County is basically running out of money." He added the town's passing a room tax is an "opportunity" to have tourists fund marketing costs instead of county taxpayers.

"Why do we have to pay when we can have our visitors pay for the very same promotions?" Paulsen asked.

Supervisor Sandra Schara urged the town board to act on the room tax.

"I think we've been kind of hanging on for this long enough," she said. "I think we need to act on it and get it over with."

Schara added if the town is going to survey its residents it must survey both rental owners and non-rental owners because the impact is to the whole town.

"I think we need to ask everyone how you feel about getting free money," she said. "I don't think it is fair to just ask people who own things — 'Would you like to send us more taxes?' There're more people out there than those select few, and they should have a voice in that. You are getting money not off the backs of your own taxpayers. I don't see a down side to that."

In response to Schara, Hanson said, "Well, not everybody sees it the way you do in terms of the folks who are not here, but I understand and get your point."

The board voted to place a room tax ordinance discussion on its February meeting agenda. No percentage of the lodging dollars was noted for the suggested tax.

Supervisor Kay Wilson abstained, saying the room tax ordinance would impact her and her business.

Heroin seized, 4 arrested

On Wednesday, Jan. 8, at approximately 10:59 p.m., Lac Courte Oreilles tribal police executed a search warrant at 13021W Water Tower Lane, following a four-month investigation of drug trafficking on the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation at the address.

After obtaining probable cause for a search warrant, the LCO NADGI (Native American Drug and Gang Initiative) team members executed the warrant and seized 164.5 grams of heroin with an approximate street value of more than $50,000. Officers also seized more than $2,000 in cash and multiple drug trafficking items and drug paraphernalia.

Officers arrested Clinton Price Jr., 31, of Hayward for delivery of heroin, possession with intent to deliver and maintaining a drug dwelling. Officers also arrested two 17-year-old males from Minneapolis and two juveniles who were transported to a juvenile detention center.

"The Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Police Department will continue their efforts in their mission to protect the citizens of the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation," said Police Chief Tim DeBrot.

Water Tower Lane is located north of Indian Trail Road and west of Drytown Lane on the LCO reservation.

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