By Lee Bergquist of the Journal Sentinel
Dec. 3, 2013
Source: Journal Sentinel
By next fall, bicyclists should be able to hop on their bikes at the Milwaukee lakefront and pedal over a paved trail to the southern reaches of Sheboygan County.
The idea has been in the planning stages for years: A bike and pedestrian path that would link 11 miles of Milwaukee’s Oak Leaf Trail with 30 miles of Ozaukee County’s Interurban Trail, which runs the entire length of that county.
The Interurban now extends another 7 miles into Sheboygan County as a bike and pedestrian trail that ends in Oostburg.
That makes it a 48-mile ride from Milwaukee’s lakefront — or almost a century ride for those making the round trip.
“We’re super supportive of this,” said Dave Schlabowske, deputy director of the Wisconsin Bike Fed, a group that has been tracking the project for years.
The sticking point has been the inability to develop the trail on 3.1 miles on a former railroad line cutting through portions of Milwaukee and Glendale.
Now the project is expected to take an important step forward. On Dec. 11, the state Natural Resources Board votes on a proposal to spend $248,200 in state stewardship funding for that final link.
The grant to Milwaukee County would provide the final piece of funding for the $5.3 million project. The tab for Milwaukee County residents is $600,000, according to county officials. The lion’s share of funding comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation for programs aimed at easing congestion on roadways by expanding the use of trails.
The newest section of the Oak Leaf will be paved at a width of about 10 feet. All of the railroad ties will be salvaged. There are eight bridges along the new section of the trail. Two of those bridges cross I-43 and the Milwaukee River.
“This is the last piece of puzzle,” said Jim Keegan, chief of planning and development for Milwaukee County Parks. “We think this is going to be a great ride.”
The county must now enter into negotiations with Union Pacific railroad, the owner of the rail corridor, Keegan said. The county expects to close on the deal by April 1, according to DNR documents.
County officials estimate the trail will serve some 500,000 people a year. The Oak Leaf and Interurban are known as bike trails, but in reality they also serve joggers, walkers, dog walkers, roller skaters, roller skiers, skateboarders and cross-country skiers.
To the frustration of many bicyclists, the Oak Leaf runs out of paved trail at E. Hampton Ave., where the old tracks are covered by a thicket of trees, shrubs and grasses.
“Anyone who has ridden the Oak Leaf to the point where it dead-ends along Wilson (Drive) knows that there has not been a train on those tracks in decades,” Schlabowske wrote in a blog in May 2011, updating details to the Bike Fed’s members.
The new trail heads north and will end just south of W. Mill Road, where the Oak Leaf picks up again on a We Energies right of way. Two other recent key upgrades have been made by Glendale and Brown Deer.
Andrew Struck, director of Ozaukee County’s park system, said the key to such trails, especially in urban areas, is their interconnectedness. “This really strengthens the linkages between the two counties,” Struck said.
The Bike Fed has been lobbying for the trail segment for years.
It has been complicated by both funding issues and Union Pacific’s reluctance to formally identify the corridor as abandoned, according to Schlabowske. Until that happened, the county could not pursue negotiations for the land.
“This is one of the most important missing links in our local trail network,” he said.