Airports are Quiet Lifeblood of Rural Economy
May 31, 2014
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  • Airports are often hidden in out-of-the-way places, unseen by the majority of residents. Business quietly flies in and out, adding unnoticed dollars to the local economy. But, in spite of the lack of fanfare, airports in this area are important.

    “It’s always a plus to have an airport,” said Terry Whipple, the executive director of the Juneau County Economic Development Corporation.

    The volunteers who serve on the airport commission say an airport is one of the best bargains in Juneau County, attracting business for a minimum cost.

    Near Mauston is the Mauston New Lisbon Union Airport. If plans and permissions work out, it could undergo some major changes in the next few years.

    The airport’s single runway could be extended to the west, allowing the facility to handle business jets along with the current propeller-plane traffic.

    “We would love to see it in the future expanded to take larger craft,” Whipple said.

    A longer airport runway there would be one of the two most important transportation upgrades for Juneau County to bring more business to the area. The main limitation on the use of the airport is the length of its single runway at 3,688 feet. That limits the number and size of planes that use the facility, because heavier and faster airplanes need longer runways. A typical business jet needs a 5,000-foot runway. Extending the runway length to 5,000 feet would increase the number of airplanes that could potentially use the airport and also increase its business.

    The runway can only be extended to the northwest because of wetlands to the southeast. If and when the runway is rebuilt, that will mean the closing of Ferdon Road to the north, which will need to be relocated to provide a new main entrance to the facility. Most of the cost of a new runway will be paid by the federal government because the airport is part of the Airport Improvement Program, which draws its money through fees and fuel taxes. Already the airport has benefited from that program; it picked up most of the $400,000 cost of a new taxiway.

    Another idea to increase traffic at the airport would be in attracting a company to supply more fuel and aircraft service. Currently, the airport offers only fuel through an automated pump. Adding a fixed-base operator at the airport, something like a service station for airplanes, could increase the traffic to the airport by encouraging airplane owners to stop during cross-country flights to have their planes serviced.

    Airport commission chairman Don Schwartz said the airport is frequently used by area businesses. There’s also a chance of additional flights associated with the Volk Field Air Guard base, which is limited to military operations and often has civilian security and law enforcement training. People using that training frequently need to fly to the Mauston New Lisbon airport.

    Also, a pilot training school currently uses the airport, which houses about 22 airplanes at its hangars. The people who use the hangars rent the land and pay rent to the commission.

    The airport, which began as a private air field, was purchased by Mauston, New Lisbon and Juneau County governments, and is operated by five commissions. The two municipalities budget a combined $50,000 annually for the airport.

    Whipple noted the other necessary transportation improvement needed for Juneau County would be the widening of Interstate 90 to three lanes in each direction, but that’s not likely to happen until 2060.

    The air strips in Juneau County are all single-runway operations, intended for general aviation. They are uncontrolled airports with no control towers and typically no facilities other than hangars used by airplane users, and places where fliers can tie down their small planes after landing, along with aviation gasoline pumps.

    Necedah has a couple of places to land an airplane. The Murmuring Springs Airport is a private 2,500-foot turf strip southeast of the village. The lightly used village-owned Necedah Airport, located north of the village, has a 2,721-foot paved runway

    The largest and busiest airport in the county is also the one least likely to be used by general aviation. Volk Field, near Camp Douglas, is owned by the U.S Air Force and operated by the Wisconsin Air National Guard. It’s common to see military C-130 transports using the field’s 9,000-foot runway. It’s a facility often used for military and civilian national-security training. Private planes cannot use the field without advance permission.

    The Three Castles Airpark at Wonewoc is a throwback to the old days of airfields that were literally open fields where airplanes could land. The tree-lined field has a single 2,740-foot grass runway.

    But about 15 miles to the east is a less-hidden airport. The more sophisticated Reedsburg Municipal Airport in Sauk County sits next to one of the busiest intersections in the city, and is right on Main Street, at 1720 Main Street. It’s home to a pair of lighted runways – 4,840 and 2,510 feet long. The Reedsburg airport also is home to airplane-maintenance companies.

    Beyond the practical appeal to business owners, who feel the added costs of flying are worth faster trips by avoiding highway congestion, aviation has not lost its romantic appeal. The commission members have long been pilots who are attracted to the skies.

    “It’s a euphoric feeling,” said Tom Chudy, the commission’s secretary and treasurer.