Growing Pains Noted Near Wolf Pen Gap, Tourism on Up-Tick
The future of Wolf Pen Gap and impacts to the environment and local residents were brought to the attention of Polk County Quorum Court at the regularly scheduled December meeting.
Karan Mather emailed Judge Brandon Ellison requesting to be placed on the agenda to bring her concerns to the county district officials.
In her letter she said she has sold her home and it will be turned into a rental cabin. This follows two other residents selling homes recently that have also been made into rental cabins.
The complaints include rescue calls for ATVs and claims “The rescues are usually at night and they are usually drunk… I have yet to see anyone arrested for DUI on county roads around Wolf Pen Gap.”
Mather also claims the increased building of cabins is problematic, and noted in her letter that 44 cabins are being built on Polk 61 and 612, while 200 acres has been acquired to build an RV campground and additional cabins.
Complaints of the road conditions on Polk 61 and Hwy 8 East are due to deterioration caused by increased traffic.
Mather also mentioned increased trash in the area and said, “The county will not pick up trash and expects local residents to take care of this problem.”
Other complaints include private property is not being respected, ATV trails are being used during the off season and at night.
“Residents like myself are fed up and it is only going to get worse with the increase in tourism,” said Mather, the former resident.
Though Quorum Court members did not ask any questions at the time of Mather’s presentation, discussion was held latter in the meeting, with quorum members agreeing there is a problem.
Polk County Sheriff Scott Sawyer told the court laws have changed over the past couple of legislative sessions and said ATV riders are no longer prohibited from riding on county roads or even crossing state highways on ATVs to get to a trail head.
Sawyer explained his office and deputies patrol as much as possible in the area, but often only two or three deputies are on duty covering 800 square miles.
Sawyer said his office responds to call from concerned individuals in the area often, but unless the riders are breaking the law, there is not much that can be done.
He said for $25,000 to $30,000 he could have a part-time deputy patrol that area on weekends, similar to what is currently being done to patrol the south of the county.
County Judge Brandon Ellison said the problems indicate growth and solutions can be sought.
“We have a bit of a problem. We can fix it ,but we need to address it in a well- thought out way,” he said. “We need to probably get a side by side to look like a county vehicle and put a part time deputy out there. Having a deputy ride out there and write a few tickets would likely help, but we need to be strategic.”
Ellison said he and Sawyer will come up with a policy and plan
“This is an economic development issue,” he said. “If anyone in a leadership position has a problem with development, I don’t know why they are in a leadership role.
“Tourism is what we do,” Ellison continued. “Yes, we raise live stock and cut logs, have the motor plant and manufacturing. We are set up with a diversified economy and that is a good thing – and tourism is part of that.”
Ellison attributed a portion of increased tax revenue to the tourism industry.
“Sales tax has been looking really good,” he said. “ The county portion was $167,000 over last year, and last year was a good year. I think some of it was internet sales tax and other reason is economic growth.”
Ellison said he wants to respond to issues without making knee jerk reactions.
“We need to make well thought out decisions,” Ellison said. “I understand many of the folks who have lived out there a long time are experiencing change. Every community that sees growth has problems, but we need to remember that indicates we are doing well.
“I’ve never seen Polk County growing the way it is right now,” Ellison continued. “ I think the growth is a product of the trail system, crime is low, property prices are low. We want to be welcoming to tourists and people that are relocating. Most of those folks are 60 years old and have retirement. They spend their money here and it opens up a huge opportunity for service businesses. We have an opportunity and there are gaps to be filled here for folks with an entrepreneurial spirit.”