No, this is not a bad joke about the weather. I may not have a green thumb, but even I know most farmers markets have been closed since the end of the fall harvest. I’m talking about the Milwaukee County Winter Farmers Market, which I biked to religiously every Saturday morning last year. The Milwaukee Winter Farmers Market had a surprising amount of fresh produce all winter last year when it was at the Tommy Thompson Center at State Fair Park. It was a real treat to shop for fresh, local greens, apples, potatoes, onions, herbs and proteins every week, well past the time when I am typically scraping the bottom of my personal root cellar.
We had a pretty mild early winter last year, and I was able to take the Hank Aaron State Trail to the market much of the winter. I particularly enjoyed that they opened the normally locked gate from the trail to the market. When the snow got too deep on the trail (the State does not maintain the Hank Aaron in the Winter), I grudgingly switched to a less pleasant road route, but kept going even though every trip it bugged me that the trail was not being maintained.
This year, they moved the winter market to the Domes at Mitchell Park. My friends and family all know I love Milwaukee’s famous Domes, so you would think I would be even more inclined to go this winter. The problem is, this summer the Sate built a bunch of sweet new trails and bridges in the Three Bridges State Park to connect the Hank Aaron State Trail with Mitchell Park. I love the new trails and they make an ideal route to get to the market … but they are not plowed!
The City of Milwaukee does a really good job clearing the bridges on the Hank Aaron State Trail, because they agreed to take ownership of them in order to get the trail constructed, but that leave the rest of the trail, which is supposed to be maintained by the State , covered with snow, despite a signed memorandum of understanding that they would agree to clear maintain the trail.
I’m not blaming the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resourses’ regional trail manager. She was not given any equipment, staff or budget to clear the trail of snow or ice. I also understand that the senior staff at the WDNR have been forced to make due with an ever shrinking budgets for years, so I don’t blame them either. Hey, I give them mad props for building the awesome trail and park in the first place.
Based on the last couple state elections, it appears the majority of my fellow voters in Wisconsin chose to elect leaders to Madison with a mandate to spend pretty much all of our transportation dollars on bigger, wider highways, despite years of declining traffic counts. It seems those leaders feel their constituents don’t want even a relatively small amount of money spent on winter maintenance for trails with increasing user counts.
In fact, last winter, the trail counter at the Menomonee Valley Passage recorded 6,659 users from December 4, 2012 though February 7, 2013, even though the trail was not being plowed. As I mentioned above, we had a mild early winer, but who knows how many people would have continued to use the trail if it was consistently cleared of snow?
Regular readers will remember I recently built a rear rack for my Schlick Northpaw Fatbike. With the agressive tread pattern on the Surly Nate tires I am currently rolling, I know I could get to the market via the trail if I really wanted to. Alternatively I could take City of Milwaukee surface streets to the Domes, quite a few of which have bike lanes. The problem is every time I did it, it would really bug me that we built an even better route on great new trails through a fabulous new park connected by wonderful new bridges, and we don’t plow them.
Yes, that is the definition of sour grapes. I am depriving myself of access to great locally grown food because I can’t just let it go. If there are any Zen Masters or Psychologists out there reading this, I’d be happy to get your advice about how to try to forget about the disappointing allocation of my tax dollars and enjoy the routes that are available to me. On the other hand, maybe part of the reason I have chosen a career as a bicycle advocate, is that stuff like that does bother me so much.
I guess for now, I’ll channel that disappointment and keep looking for some way to get the Hank Aaron trail plowed.