This piece is a personal reflection on Kaukauna and how it has gone from rural to suburban in my brief lifetime (the past 25 years). As it is a reflection, all views are strictly my opinion and the facts are all from memory, so any inaccuracy is my fault or the fault of my childhood memories being larger than life. There is the lesser and greater matter, in terms of my point of view — not in terms of the extent of the suburbanization.
A. The Lesser
In the days of my youth, there were two cities: Kaukauna and Appleton. Appleton was “the big city” despite the fact it barely had over 60,000 people. Kaukauna, my home, was the small town, with something like 9000 people. Everyone knew everybody else. In fact, everybody still knows everybody else in Kaukauna (or if there’s one person you don’t know, you know someone who does). A trip to Appleton was a special thing: it was a visit to grandmother’s house, or the mall or something unattainable in Kaukauna. And it was far away. You knew it was far even as a child because for miles all you could see were rows and rows of corn. And after the corn, houses. They had yet to build the bypass (441).
But today, the rows of corn are gone and this is almost no longer a distinction between Kaukauna and Appleton. The only stop between the subdivisions of Kaukauna (which run as wide as they do deep where the fields were) is a brief moment in Combined Locks. But this is very brief, with the Appleton skyline clearly in view on the horizon and Kaukauna houses still in the rear view. Urban sprawl is something that happens whether we like it or not, but it’s something I had hoped would never happen in my town. One of these cornfields used to have a woods in it. And in that woods, a treehouse. But now, the treehouse is gone and that spot is the center of a subdivision with a hundred kids — none of which will ever know about the treehouse or have one of their own.
The sprawl is slowly heading into Sherwood to the south. This process will probably take another twenty years with all the farm land between the city of Kaukauna and the village of Sherwood. But it’s inevitable. Subdivisions on CE have spread to KK, and with Kaukauna annexing land to the south, this land will likely be rezoned to accomodate housing of some sort. One by one the old farms will die out.
Worse than Sherwood is Hollandtown. With the completion of the new high school in 1998 on the southeast edge of town, the new subdivisions sprang up in the most obvious place: the southeast edge of town. Now, only 8 years later it is hard to claim the high school is on the eastern edge with all the housing that is going up. And with Hollandtown’s kids already going to Kaukauna schools, it seems commonsense that the schoolkids in Hollandtown will someday be living next door to Kaukauna schoolkids. And I mean next door, not a mile down the road.
I call this the lesser because of its lesser impact on me and because it was unavoidable.
B. The Greater
The greater impact on me is the literal uprooting of the place I spent my childhood – from my youngest days until my teenage years. And even now I consider it a place of refuge, though barely with all that’s been sacrificed in the name of progress. And it was completely avoidable, completely unnecessary. Nobody needed to tear up these trees and the trail serves very little purpose as near as I can tell.
I am referring to a trail between the CE trail near the Kaukauna High School and the Horseshoe Park trails which lead to the downtown area near the swimming pool. The only purpose I can guess this trail was meant to serve is to allow high school kids a shortcut from school to downtown. However, if they were biking they always had Hillcrest Drive to bike on. And if they were walking, the trail was always available. As long as I’ve ever known, it was abandoned railroad tracks. Perfect for walking on. The only advantage to clearing them out would be to increase safety, but that seems a bit of a stretch.
And they didn’t just remove the railroad track to insert some wood chips. No, they drove bulldozers and whatever else through there. A trail that was once three feet wide and overhanging in most places is now forty feet wide in some places. The houses and roads are clearly visible from the trail, destroying the illusion of actually escaping into the woods in the middle of the city. As a child, my imagination could run wild on these train tracks, with paper boat races and all sorts of things without having to walk a mile from home. But now today’s youth will not have this chance — everywhere they look will be pavement.
And the landowners are not helping things. I would assume that if you own a patch of land in a wooded area, you want a wooded area to be away from your neighbors and the city. But many of the landowners along the trail have cleared away paths for ATVs and in some cases even such large areas that a truck can drive through. One man cleared out most of his lot to form a field. This is the landowner’s right, but in doing so he ruined the experience for people on the trail and probably also ruined his backyard. Now instead of a secluded area, he can see people in his yard from across the field.
I won’t even begin to guess where the deer are. I have seen them down there still, but it is now only a matter of time before the last one leaves.
My only hope now is that at the very least whoever runs the trail system has the decency and common sense to plant a thousand trees where the bulldozers were. If they gave me permission, I’d plant them and care for them myself out of my own pocket. I may not have children, but I want the future of Kaukauna to be children with imagination and a sense of pride i nthe environment. How can they if they are unable to experience it?