Neighbors Fight Zip Line in Jacksonport

On Aug. 1, Gravity Trails owners Michael Fischer and David Rack will know if they’re allowed to construct a zip line course on their 20-acre property in Jacksonport, after receiving opposition from neighbors who don’t support the proposed development.

“Zip lining is about as low impact of a business as you can get,” Fischer said. “I tried to explain this to [the neighbors]. We don’t cut down trees, we use the trees. The whole idea and concept behind a canopy tour is to be in the canopy.”

Fischer and Rack want to build a zip line course and disc golf course on the parcel. The courses would be set back 100 feet from the property lines and not visible from the road. They’ve already built a driveway, septic system and a well.

Signs protesting the proposed zip line business pepper Jacksonport roadsides. Photo by Carol Thompson.

But in order to proceed, Fischer and Rack need a conditional use permit from Door County. Their property on Elm Drive is zoned as general agricultural land, and property owners have to get a conditional use permit to develop active outdoor recreation like a zip line.

This is the second property Fischer and Rack have pursued in Jacksonport. They first sought a conditional use permit on a property on Lost Lake Road, but the board denied it because it was close to houses and board members felt it wasn’t appropriate for development.

“We were then told about a property by one of the supervisors in Jacksonport that was on Elm Drive,” Fischer said. “We pursued that and thought it was an ideal location because there aren’t any residential homes on the adjacent properties, they’re just fields.”

But the other residents near Elm Drive have spoken and said Gravity Trails isn’t a welcome addition to the area.

Neighbors, mostly opposed to the zip line, filled the Peninsula Room in the County Government Center on July 18 to tell the Door County Resource Planning Committee why they don’t want to live near a zip line.

“This is the first time in my close to 35 years of owning land that I’ve ever felt compelled to object to anything,” Bill Schleicher said at the meeting. “This just doesn’t fit.”

They were accompanied by a packet of letters sent in opposition to the zip line, including one from the property’s former owner apologizing for not inquiring about Fischer and Rack’s plans for the parcel.

Neighbors fear the new business will increase traffic in their quiet, agricultural area, zip line riders will scream and make noise all summer, the development will affect the area’s ecosystem and allowing the small impact of a zip line could lead to further development.

“This is a slippery slope, once it’s there it could become lots of things,” Jeff Riester said in the meeting.

Fischer and Rack purchased the property before getting a conditional use permit because they thought it was beautiful, and if they aren’t allowed to build a zip line course they plan to develop it for a use already allowed in the zoning code.

“The thing is we’re going to develop the land no matter what,” Fischer said. “We’ve talked about creating a campground.”

Camping is listed as a permitted use for general agricultural zones.

Jacksonport Town Board Chair Alvin Birnschein said the board supports Gravity Trails building a zip line on Elm Drive because there aren’t houses nearby, and because the board members are looking for more development to increase its tax base.

“We can use extra development and give these young guys a chance to try to make it,” Birnschein said. “If you don’t have development of some kind the homeowner takes the breadth of the taxes. If you have something coming why deny it? You’ve got to encourage a little bit of development other than homes.”

At the county Resource Planning Committee meeting on Thursday, Aug. 1, committee members will weigh the Gravity Trails conditional zoning request against 14 criteria and decide whether to allow the company to construct a zip line. They could approve the conditional use permit with restrictions, such as only allowing tours between 10 am and 6 pm.