An April Fool’s Day story in The County Line, an Ontario, Wis., weekly newspaper on Thursday, led the Wisconsin DNR to issue a news release assuring the public it is not selling the Elroy-Sparta State Trail to Disney.
The newspaper ran a story in its March 29 edition saying that the DNR has planned to sell the state trail to Disney, which would turn it into a Disneyesque-style amusement destination complete with merchandising.
“The article… was picked up by other news media [and] generated a number of constituent calls to the DNR and to local legislators from concerned citizens,” according to DNR spokesman Bill Cosh. “Land acquired by DNR for public recreation, including the famous Elroy-Sparta Trail, should not and cannot be sold without first being identified to the public as no longer needed for conservation -- which is rare -- and approved by the state Natural Resources Board and governor.”
The story started on the newspaper’s front page and then was continued on page 2. Underneath the continuation of the story was a block of type saying “Lipra Loof,” which April Fool spelled backwards and often accompanies stories written as April Fool’s Day jokes.
The DNR noted that The County Line has a tradition of running April Fool's stories saying that past tales, “have touched upon such topics as the cancellation of school lunch, a proposal to run a high speed rail line through the Elroy-Sparta State Trail, and a story on how the DNR was planting cougars in a local park.”
The County Line is published by Karen Parker, a well-renowned community journalist in Wisconsin, who is also a member of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundation Board of Directors. Parker's byline accompanied the story.
Parker said the story took off with the unwitting help of an area radio outlet, which read it over the air without figuring out it was a joke. The story has been taken down from The County Line's website, but Parker said she has received calls from other media outlets asking her to repost it, so they could share it.
"I now know what the term 'viral' means," Parker said.