Potawatomi State Park To Tear Down Observation Tower, Underwater Photography Program Teaches Scientific Curiosity To Kids, A Look At Paul Ryan’s Career So Far

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An adjunct professor at Northland College recently led an underwater photography program for teenagers as part of a mental health program for at-risk youth. We hear from the professor who is also an invertebrate biologist and aquatic ecologist, about the unique experience. We also learn more about why the observation tower at Potawatomi State Park must come down, and take a look at Paul Ryan’s role in politics so far.

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  • DNR Removal Of Potawatomi State Park Tower Garners Criticism

    Visitors to Potawatomi State Park have caught the same view since 1932: a sweeping panorama of Sawyer Harbor, Sturgeon Bay and Green Bay, broken up by miles of green, auburn or yellow forest, depending on the season.

    But the park’s 75-foot-tall observation tower — built when Herbert Hoover was president — may be nearing the end of its days.

    This month, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources permanently closed the tower, citing significant wood decay that made the tower unsafe.

    The observation tower at Potawatomi State Park. Al (CC BY-NC 2.0)

    In a press release, Wisconsin State Park System Director Ben Bergey said there are no plans to replace the tower.

    Its removal comes just two years after the DNR removed Eagle Tower at Peninsula State Park near Fish Creek. In that case, the DNR also cited decaying wood.

    But there are plans to replace Eagle Tower. A final design was selected in November, but construction has yet to begin. An independent nonprofit group, Friends of Peninsula State Park, is working to raise half of the funds required for that tower, which would include a ramp.

    But some, like state Sen. Robert Cowles, R – Green Bay, are concerned about both the slow pace of the Eagle Tower replacement and the impending removal of the Potawatomi State Park tower.

    Cowles, R-Green Bay, says the loss of the towers could have a “chilling effect” on local tourism. But he says they’re just a piece of the problem.

    “I am concerned about the observation tower, but I am also concerned about the broader situation with maintenance of our state parks,” he said. “… These parks are not to be taken for granted, and I think to a certain extent, our government has done that. And because of that, there’s not enough money to maintain that.”

    In 2015, Gov. Scott Walker eliminated state funding for the state park system, more than $4.5 million per year, with the goal that the parks become “self-sustaining.”

    But as Cowles argues, that hasn’t happened. He says the state’s eroding towers and trails, and the need for private funding for a state-owned tower, is proof.

    According to a 2013 DNR report, the state park system has on average 14 million visitors each year. Most of the money spent by state park visitors — an estimated $580 million — comes from people not local to the region or state.

    Cowles worries that further raising the price of admission to the parks to help fund their operating costs, as proposed, could make state parks less accessible for the middle class.

    “If there’s a gradual erosion of the amenities, the things that make it a complete experience, we could have an erosion of the sales tax money coming to the state,” he said. “And a degradation of the experience that sort of makes Wisconsin a nifty place to live.”

    Cowles says he wants to see the tower replaced in the same spot, as quickly and as economically as possible.

    In a press release, Bergey did not rule out the possibility of future observation towers in Potawatomi State Park.

    “We welcome opportunities to work with partners to provide additional recreation opportunities at the park, which could include new observation facilities in the future,” he said.

  • GOP State Senator Warns About The Removal Of Park's Tower

    Republican State Senator Robert Cowles of Green Bay says the DNR’s decision to remove the Potawatomi State Park observation tower could have “chilling” effects on tourism. He explains his comments and why he says the state parks funding model may not be in-step with visitors’ desires.

  • Underwater Photography Program Aims To Help Teens Overcome Mental Health Challenges

    While underwater photography might be a hobby for some, it’s being used as a form of therapy for teens at Northwest Passage in Webster, Wisconsin. The “Under the Surface” program is helping kids struggling with mental and emotional health by training them in snorkeling and capturing what they find below the surface on camera. We talk to two of the program’s coordinators about how it works and the benefits of getting in the water.

    You can see more of the photos and stories from the kids at Northwest Passage in the link below.

  • A Look At Ryan's Legacy – And Who's Running For His Seat?

    With House Speaker Paul Ryan announcing he won’t seek re-election this fall, speculation is growing as to who will run for his Congressional seat. We discuss who’s in, who’s out and who may be thinking about it. We also discuss Ryan’s legacy over his 20 years in Congress.

Episode Credits

  • Rob Ferrett Host
  • Bill Martens Producer
  • Dean Knetter Producer
  • Robert Cowles Guest
  • Ian Karl Guest
  • Toben LaFrancois Guest
  • Susan Johnson Guest

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