Letter to the Editor:

Eagle River, humble though it may be, is certainly “home” in the hearts of countless people.

There are those who have gone a step further and established vacation homes so they can spend months in Eagle River instead of just days.  

And there are those who set their sights on making it their home when they retire and in fact have seen Eagle River named one of the Top 100 Places to Retire in the nation. 

And of course, there are those who have lived in Eagle River all their lives, some even making sacrifices to stay here because they can’t imagine living elsewhere. 

In spite of Eagle River being a special area with a great history, we are now at a crossroads.  We have two choices: let the downward spiral take hold or create a future we want to live in.

Unfortunately, the town of Washington does not currently have the zoning ordinances in place to limit sexually oriented businesses.  Just last week, it came to a few citizens’ attention that Catch 22 was under a working agreement to be sold to a party intent on making Catch 22 the third strip club in the Eagle River  area. There’s also one on Columbus Road in the town of Washington and another on Highway H in the town of Sugar Camp.

If this club opens, the Eagle River area will have strip clubs bookending the east and west sides of  town along Highway 70.

People will see strip clubs as they enter and leave the Eagle River area.  In fact, the Eagle River area will have more strip clubs per capita (even using our peak season population of 30,000) than Las Vegas. We will literally be the strip club center of the North Woods. 

Let’s get off this road and stop the downward spiral.

The citizens are doing their job.  A core group of citizens mobilized and wrote a petition and gathered 1,700 signatures.  It’s clear the citizens have made their position clear . . . use town resources (i.e., time and money) to not let our humble town spirit be stolen away.  We have to work with the Washington Town Board and local governments to go from “no, because” to “yes, how” to solve this issue. It’s going to mean we take risks and raise the stakes because the risk to our way of life is so great.

We do not want an area that’s known for strip clubs.  If that happens, when families think about vacation destinations or couples thinking about retirement, we will have made their choice easier. They’ll go to St. Germain and other nearby towns that were able to maintain their town standards. 

We should build our own road and create the future we want. 

As you drive through the  Eagle River area, ask yourself, are we reaching our potential? Are we keeping up with our neighboring towns? Are too many businesses slipping away without new ones coming in? 

We can put a plan in place to put our town on track to be the best possible version of itself. A plan to have our town reflect its citizens . . . humble, yet special. Creating the future will take the resolve from our citizens partnering with the town board to building a roadmap.  

We need to be clear on the types of businesses we want and then create a set of incentives to attract new businesses. We can put the right vision in place to keep our town special. 

Let’s take the right road.  Let’s play offense. Let’s keep the Eagle River area special.

Erik Hess

Eagle River