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EDITORIAL: Why won't WisDOT allow park signs?

One of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's main objectives is to direct motorists to their eventual destination in a safe and efficient manner.

That's why a recent tug-of-war with the City of New Richmond is so perplexing.

The city and its Parks Board have been discussing the idea of changing the names of two of its parks (Hatfield Park and Hatfield Lake Regional Park) for several months to clear up confusion among residents and visitors.

Because the two parks have had similar names, park users were often unsure which one was the actual location for a particular soccer, softball or t-ball game. The parks are near each other, but are not connected in any way. Park users who mistakenly go to one park cannot easily get to the other park without getting back onto Highway 65 and winding their way around.

To clear up the mess, officials suggested the names of the parks change. At first the idea was to name the parks Hatfield West and East. Later the idea was to name the regional park "Freedom Park," in honor and memory of local veterans.

That seemed like a great idea at the time, but WisDOT threw a monkey wrench into the plan. WisDOT told city officials that they preferred the East and West names, because the park would seemingly be combined into one entity. Transportation officials said they would allow official signs to be placed along Highway 65, where motorists would have the best chance of seeing the signs and getting to their destination quickly and safely.

WisDOT didn't like the fact that Hatfield Lake Regional Park doesn't yet have running water, permanent bathrooms and handicapped accessibility. The state apparently isn't in the habit of efficiently directing folks to parks that don't meet such a minimum standard, even though plans for the park will eventually bring such amenities into the facility. If the city chose the "Freedom Park" option, state officials said they would not allow for signs directing motorists along Highway 65.

The signage rule is silly, because WisDOT's mission has nothing to do with park development but has everything to do with getting people to the right place. The name change, and appropriate signage for the parks, helps to fulfill that primary mission.

In the end, city officials did the right thing. They voted to approve the "Freedom Park" name and worry about the placement of signs at a later date. Local veterans have indicated that they would be willing to help raise the necessary funds for signs.

We still think WisDOT should still work with the community to create signs for both Freedom Park and Hatfield Park. State officials should allow the signs to be installed along Highway 65, providing the most help for people searching for the right direction to go.

If the state agency doesn't see it that way, perhaps Gov. Scott Walker and the area's state senator and state representatives can get involved in the debate. Afterall, what politician in their right mind would deny a community's effort to honor veterans with the renaming of a local park?