Snowbound in Milwaukee: How to get our trails plowed

A couple days ago, Jason McDowel wrote an open letter on MKEBKE requesting that the trails in Milwaukee be better cleared of snow and ice in the winter. He argues that by looking at all the frozen footprints and bicycle tire ruts, anyone can see that there is a demand for use of these trails, even when the weather gets cold. Jason makes a good case for better winter maintenance of all the trails in Milwaukee in his post, but he didn’t explain why the trails are not plowed, or suggest a way we as trail users, might get our elected leaders and city departments to prioritize snow and ice removal from our area trails.

The way it should be.

In this recent post, I have explained why I think we have spotty efforts to clear snow and ice from the various trails in the Milwaukee area. From the Milwaukee County Oak Leaf to the Hank Aaron State Trail to the City of Milwaukee Beer Line, the various municipalities in the 414 do a poor job of keeping out trails accessible during the winter months. I think that in part, it is because the trail network belongs to different municipalities, but also because we as citizens have done a poor job of advocating for winter trail maintenance.

While the reasons why our trails are full of snow and ice may vary, the result is inaccessible trails for all but the most adventurous, whether you want to get around on foot or on bike.  Below is a video I shot this morning at the bridge over the Menomonee River by the Valley Passage on the Hank Aaron State Trail near 37th Street. If you want to see exactly where this is, click this link to view the Google Map with the bicycling layer turned on.

You can see by the video that the City of Milwaukee Bridge Maintenance Crew has done a good job of clearing snow on the bridge. They did a similarly good job clearing the snow on the spiral ramp that leads down to the bridge from 37th and W Pierce Street. But they are only tasked with maintaining City of Milwaukee Birdges, and the Hank Aaron is a state trail. As you can see by the tire tracks they drove with their plow blade up all the way along the Hank Aaron to clear the bridge, then they continued down the Hank Aaron, again with their plow blade up to clear a bridge somewhere further down the trail.

In that Ice Trail Bikers blog post, I mentioned that some municipalities do a very good job of clearing snow. How can we make Milwaukee one of those?  I think we need to start our advocacy efforts at a more localized level. I suggest that those of us who care about winter access to trails target a the Oak Leaf and Beerline on Milwaukee’s east side and the Hank Aaron State Trail from 6th and Canal to Miller Park. Let’s get together to try to work with the various municipalities and non-profit groups connected to those specific trails to create a plan for those trails to be consistently and completely cleared of snow and ice. I suggest these trail segments because I know there are already people who want them better plowed.

I’m tired of complaining and explaing, so let’s organize, and the Bike Fed can help. If you want to work on this issue, I will set a meeting at our office and invite the right people from Milwaukee County, the City of Milwaukee, the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources, the Friends of the Hank Aaron State Trail and anyone interested people who want to attend.

If you are interested in meeting, please email me at:

I will create an email list, coordinate a date that works and invite all the important stakeholders to a meeting at our Milwaukee office. Who want’s to change the world with me?


About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

11 thoughts on “Snowbound in Milwaukee: How to get our trails plowed

  1. Just an FYI, while I didn’t indicate it in the blog, I did send that open letter to 3 representatives. I heard back from one, but as far as I know still nothing has been done about that trail. I can report back later tonight.

    • Good to hear Jason. I asked the City Engineer who attended our Winter Carnival at Ray’s, and he confirmed that the trails down through Kadish Park to the Marsupial Bridge are City of Milwaukee trails, not Milwaukee County. So we need to work with the City of Milwaukee DPW to get those cleared. DPW bridge maintenance crews are already responsible for the Marsupial Bridge, but not that trail leading down to it.

  2. Thanks Dave for spearheading this. Just e-mailed you to include me on the meeting. I’m a year-rounder who uses the Oak Leaf from Wauwatosa to Bradley Rd. Last year, there was plowing towards the end of the winter. This year, not so much.

  3. Count me in. I’m a Waukesha County resident, but I use the HAST thru to the Brookfield border….except, alas, from snowfall to snowmelt. Of course, I’d like to see you extend that to 76th street, but we have to start somewhere.

  4. Count me in, I’ll send an email to confirm. Over the last few days the Oak Leaf from Downtown to North Shore has been maintained perfectly in my opinion, not scraped down to the asphalt or salted but perfect for studded tires and so much fun. This morning the HAST had double-track wheel ruts that were compacted enough to ride smoothly but still very slow. There were a couple of sections that were plowed West of Hawley but only for a few blocks. I needed to abort the trail at 76th to make it to work in a reasonable amount of time. We’ll see if the impending Snowpocalypse for today alters my ride home!

  5. Dave,

    Add me to email list. I am a regular user(communter) on HAST, riding from Bkfld to MKE, and would use it in winter if cleared.


  6. I live on the Oak Leaf South of Good Hope and actually prefer they don’t plow it as it makes the trail side unskiable with the stuff they plow to the side that freezes. While I ride on occasion in winter, I accept that the less used sections of trail like where I live may not be plowed (or need to be) and ride the roads.

  7. Dave — Thanks. Put me on the list, I’m willing to especially focus on the OLT in Shorewood. For the first time this season, tonight I had to give up on the OLT, from Hampton to Capitol. Wilson is not a safe place for bikes on a snowy night. While a bit of snow removal would be nice on the OLT, the City or the County needs to do some drainage repair on the OLT, between approximately Bradford and Thomas. Something is broken or messed up there; water ponds there, freezes, and cyclists and runners have either a glacier field to cross, or cold mud to plod through.

  8. Hi, Dave
    I actually entered an online work request for the Milwaukee DPW to plow & salt the Beerline trail. I got an automated response telling me it was done. When I went to check it out it had been plowed (but not salted) up to Gordon Park. There was still plenty of ice. The park trails were horrendous. The northern part of the trail (north of Burliegh) had not been touched. A buddy of mine flew right by me on a fat bike, oblivious to the conditions. Maybe that’s the way to go.

    • Hey Bill,

      When I used to work for the City, I always told people to do that when they had complaints about pot holes, glass in bike lanes, or snow clearing issues. The City logs and monitors the completion time of service requests that come in via the call center or online. Aldermen care who gets better response times, so the departments do too.

      That said, I think we should be proactive to get a plan for better (even if not perfect) snow and ice removal on the Hank Aaron State Trail, the Oak Leaf on the east side and the Beerline. I will be working today to set up that meeting for next week or the week after.

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