by Luke Ulatowski
For The Beacon
Construction on the Broughton Marsh’s next big addition missed its due date, but the marsh’s friends are working hard to get it started before the year is through.
Friends of the Sheboygan County Broughton Marsh is a nonprofit formed in 2004 for the purpose of promoting increased usage of the Broughton Marsh. Its first project was an 80-foot observation tower. Fundraising for the project began in 2006, and the tower was constructed in 2009. It still stands as Wisconsin’s tallest wooden observation tower.
The multipurpose facility has proved to be a larger and longer endeavor. The building was designed by Legacy Architecture’s President & Principal Architect Jennifer Lehrke in 2013. According to Lehrke, the county is currently working with Ayres Associates Engineering Services Manager Craig Schuh to finalize the site layout and design. “When these two items are complete, construction can start hopefully as early as this fall, culminating a seven year long effort,” Lehrke said. “This facility is going to be quite an asset for northwestern Sheboygan County.”
In 2014, the County Board authorized Friends of the Marsh to raise funds for the building’s construction, which was projected to cost $2.3 million.
The fundraising effort had a lengthy quiet phase that Friends of the Marsh President Lil Pipping referred to as a “silent campaign.” During this time, Friends of the Marsh received donations from Kohler Company, Brotz Family Foundation, Sheboygan County Conservation Association, Sargento, F.K. Bemis Family Foundation, Krier Charitable Foundation, Garton Foundation, Hayssen Foundation, FJC Foundation and Van Horn Automotive Group.
The quiet phase ended in 2018 when Friends of the Marsh called on local businesses and the general public to donate with the goal of breaking ground in April 2019. As of May 2019, construction has not begun and fundraising continues.
“We’ll take all the money we can get because we’re not sure what the cost of the project is actually going to be,” Pipping said. “When we projected this, this was in 2012, so that’s seven years ago, and I’m sure there is a few things that increased in price.”
Pipping now expects to break ground in June. “Things all just take a bit longer than we anticipated to raise the money, so here’s where we are today,” she said of the schedule slip. She further explained that the project was not conceived with a completion year in mind. “The sooner we could do it, the better, but we didn’t have a definite,” she said. “It was more or less as soon as we could raise the funds.”
Friends of the Marsh board member and Camp Y-Koda education director Sarah DeZwarte recalled that the first and biggest donation for the project came from Kohler Company. “They did $500,000 in cash, and they’re also doing in kind,” DeZwarte said.
Joseph Schmitt & Sons is contracted for construction of the facility. The company had previously been contracted for construction of the observation tower.
The 4,000 square-foot building was designed to be V-shaped, with an atrium containing educational kiosks connecting the two wings in the middle. One wing will have a set of bathrooms and showers meant for the marsh’s camp goers. That wing will be partially covered by a $350,000 donation from Sheboygan County.
The other wing will serve as an event space and, more explicitly, teaching grounds for Camp Y-Koda, a summer camp initiative currently led by the YMCA. According to Pipping, the project was conceptualized with Camp Y-Koda in mind because it was in desperate need of a larger facility for classes on the marsh.
“They do the educational classes out there right now using a semi trailer that was donated by Sargento about 25 years ago,” Pipping said. “It’s still functional, but our classes have gotten bigger, and it’s not handicap accessible, it doesn’t have bathrooms, it doesn’t have storage for their storage supplies–”
“It’s not a storm shelter, either,” DeZwarte added. “And it’s sinking. You can roll a pencil from one side to the other now on its own.”
Sargento donated the trailer around 1995, DeZwarte recalled. This came before Camp Y-Koda’s involvement with the marsh. “The Outdoor Skills Center actually started this whole thing, but they ended up merging with Camp Y-Koda in 2000,” DeZwarte said.
The Friends are seeking Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification for the building, and Pipping and DeZwarte are confident they will receive it. “Someone at Kohler’s helping us with the paperwork on that,” DeZwarte said. “It will be LEED certified, we just don’t know what level because it could end up being gold, but we’re shooting for platinum with our design.”
LEED certification is awarded by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council. The four certification levels from worst to best are Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. “During this whole process, there are different levels of things that we have to do to reach different levels like platinum: energy-efficient HUV, solar system and things like that,” Pipping said. “That all helps. It also includes materials that we can use from the marsh. That’s part of it. Some of the trees will actually be used as supports in the multipurpose, educational part.”
Located in Elkhart Lake, the Broughton Marsh features a 30-acre park area and a 13,000-acre wildlife area. Beside the observation tower, another landmark is the Marsh Lodge, a full service restaurant and tavern. The county’s official website flaunts the marsh as “Sheboygan County’s most popular park.” Even so, the Friends of the Marsh wish kids utilized it and other outdoor areas more often.
DeZwarte recounted a telling story. “We surveyed some students at Grant Elementary School about Lake Michigan, and we asked them, ‘How many of you have ever been to Lake Michigan?’ and only less than 25% said they did,” she said. “They were only like, four blocks from Lake Michigan. I went and did a little bit of research, and it shows that urban students tend to not leave their block. They stay put. They’re not exploring natural areas at all.”
“It’s a very needed project,” Pipping said. “Like Sarah said, there are thousands of kids who go through her program, and it’s a win-win thing because a lot of kids just sit in the house and twiddle their thumbs on their computer and iPad, and we need to get more of them outside to learn the environment and just get some fresh air.”