SHEBOYGAN — In Sheboygan County, nature and luxury golf courses coexist. But there's resistance against an additional Kohler Co. golf course along the coast of Lake Michigan.
"I guess the idea would be, we can have both. But this is not the right place for a golf course," said Erik Thelen, who lives in Sheboygan County.
On Thursday, members of the Sierra Club and grassroots Sheboygan County group Friends of the Black River Forest held a rally at the Wisconsin State Capitol against the proposed 18-hole public course.
The groups delivered 25,000 petitions to Governor Tony Ever's office to protest the plan, according to a press release.
"The Kohler Company's done a lot of wonderful things for Sheboygan County. There's no doubt about it. This isn't one of the wonderful things they're doing for Sheboygan County," Thelen said.
In a 2014 land swap deal under former Governor Scott Walker, the company received Kohler-Andrae State Park land including woods, wetlands, and sand dunes. The space would be used to build a parking lot, road, and maintenance facility. Last year, the FBRF lost a challenge against the land swap at the State Supreme Court.
"[The maintenance facility] is going to be full of lawnmowers and pesticides. That's what we're giving up," said Thelen, pointing to the dense woods where the facility would be built.
Approval of a wetland permit, twice revoked, is all that's holding up development. That's now before a state appeals court.
"We are very thankful for our golf courses here, and the jobs that they open up for people that live in the community as well," said Carly Aldag, who grew up in Sheboygan and was visiting Kohler-Andrae State Park on Tuesday. "I would love another golf course as long as it doesn't take away from other activities we can do here as well."
For Thelen, who hikes the park often with his dogs, it's about accepting what's already changed but preserving what remains.
"Lots of opportunity to view wildlife. It's a wonderful place to live," he said.
Kohler Co. shared this statement:
“We are committed to creating a world-class golf course that respects the property’s natural character and surrounding community and opens private land to the public for the first time. Our company has an established track record of sound environmental stewardship with a commitment to following all applicable municipal, state, and federal regulations. All along, our approach has been to avoid, minimize and mitigate potential impacts and to enhance adjacent park facilities.
Our intention with this public golf course is for it to be an asset to our region, offering many benefits for the City of Sheboygan, including an expanded tax base, new tax revenues, and over 200 new jobs. This is a good project that makes sense for the community and its future by continuing to elevate the area’s growing reputation as a great place for tourists to visit and residents to live and raise their families.”
The Sierra Club also posted this statement ahead of the rally:
"Kohler-Andrae Lakeshore is a single ecosystem that includes both the park and 247 acres to the north where Kohler wants to build its golf course. It contains rare interdunal wetlands and one of the last stands of old-growth forest on the western shore of Lake Michigan – a forest that Kohler’s golf course plan would clearcut. Kohler-Andrae Lakeshore is home to hundreds of species of birds, amphibians, mammals, and plants, some of them rare and threatened, as well as an annual stopover site for thousands of migrating birds."