Notice: All state trails are closed as of 11pm tonight

That’s right, there is a little known rule called NR45 that closes all state trails (with the odd exception of the Sugar River Trail) from 11pm to 6am. This means that technically you can’t ride home on the Hank Aaron Trail after a Brewers game or after your late shift lets out if you work at one of the many bike friendly businesses in the Menomonee Valley. I can’t take the Hank home to the west side after I see a concert in Bay View.

Riders taking a break in the Stewart Tunnel on the Badger State Trail just south of Belleville.

Note I said “technically,” as there are only a few documented cases of people being ticketed ($175), told to get off the trails or asked to get special permits. That said it is a dumb rule and the Bike Fed wants to change it. So does Bill Hauda, a long-time Wisconsin bike advocate and former Bike Fed board member, who takes part in the annual “Pick Me Up at the Boarder” night ride. The 90-plus mile night ride starts at the state Capitol at midnight. The riders then pedal down to the Illinois border where they meet riders on the Illinois Jane Adams trail to share some “refreshments” and ride back to Madison.  Much of the route is on the Badger State Trail.

Bright lights, Burley Trailers and and knee socks are suggested equipment. Photograph by Michael Lemberger

The ride began in 2011 and there have been no problems, but last year but last year the WDNR heard about it and because they are bound to enforce NR45, they told the organizers they needed to get permits and contact the land managers before they did the ride. That is akin to WisDOT requiring people to get permits to carpool to Chicago to see the Packers trounce the Bears in a night game.

To their credit, the WDNR has been trying to get the curfew on trails removed from NR45 since 2006, but without success because of bureaucratic red tape. Hauda has not been content to wait for the glacial speed of government to take care of the problem. Bill has kept me in the loop about his efforts via email and phone calls.

Group photo op. Photo by Michael Lemberger

As a member of the Wisconsin Non-Motorized Recreation and Transportation Trails Council and the Friends of Badger State Trail, he got both groups to pass resolutions seeking repeal of the rule. I got this email from him yesterday:

“By unanimous vote at a meeting in Monticello, the Friends of Badger State Trail today supported repeal of the DNR rule making use of Wisconsin’s state trails illegal between the hours of 11 pm and 6 am. The Friends group joins the Wisconsin Nonmotorized Recreation and Transportation Trails Council and the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin in backing repeal. Violators are currently subject to a $175 fine for being on the trails during the prohibited period, during which trails are used by many to commute to and from work.”


This view is illegal. Photograph by Michael Lemberger

Even WDNR staff have publicly encouraged The Bike Fed to take up this issue. Brigit Brown, State Trails Manager, was recently quoted as saying “Citizens working with legislators directly could make the change more quickly than going through the process that the department must follow.” Some regional trail managers I have spoken to don’t even know about the rule. Similar local ordinances apply to local trails, like the Oak Leaf Trail in Milwaukee.

With encouragement from WDNR staff and nighttime trail users like Hauda (and myself), the Bike Fed will be talking to our lobbyists to strategize a legislative solution to correct this oversight in state rules.

Back in Madison safe and sound in time for morning coffee on the Square. Photo by Michael Lemberger

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.

9 thoughts on “Notice: All state trails are closed as of 11pm tonight

  1. Many county cooperative state trails have different rules on when they are open. For example, the Fox River Trail in the Green Bay area is open 5 am to 9 pm while the Mountain-Bay Trail is daytime only.

    • Excellent point Greg. Again, I have not heard of many instances where people are being ticketed or kicked off trails for riding at night, but we still should change these rules. Trails are just as much for transportation as recreation, just like roads. When I drive up north to go deer hunting, I leave after work. Should I be forced off the road because I am using it for a vacation? That would be silly. We don’t prohibit people from going for a “Sunday Drive” under the full moon, so why should we prohibit people from doing a full moon bike ride on the trails?

      The Bike Fed can work on this at the state level, but as you point out, it will take local advocacy to change the rules on local trails.

  2. One problem, people are not safe on the trails at night. Before sun rise and after sun rise “a person never knows who is on the side of the trail”. It might be a person with a gun or a knife or some thing similar. I do agree with the D.N.R. there should be a fine, trails and roads are not safe for bike riders at night.

    • @Joseph – When you go to your car parked in the parking lot of a store/mall, or on the street, near a place of business, you never know who could be hiding on the other side of your car with a gun or a knife or something similar, or if you are driving, you never know who is in the care to the side of you, particularly, “before sun rise and after sun rise”. So, using your logic, all drivers should be fined, as parking lots, spaces, and roads are not safe fo drivers at night.

  3. I’m a bit confused by this – it doesn’t seem like NR45 is new, but the title “Notice: All state trails are closed as of 11pm tonight” makes it sound that 1) this is a brand new thing and 2) it either applies only to tonight, or goes from tonight on forward.
    I had to re-read the article a few times to make sure I wasn’t missing something, and I’m still not 100% sure that I’m not missing something.

    • Sorry if the story is a bit confusing. The rule has been in effect for years, and it is and has been illegal to ride on state trails between 11pm and 6am. The organizers of a recent ride were asked to get a special permit, and that has prompted the effort to get this rule changed.

      Does that clear things up?

  4. The 11pm -6am closure rule has only been used to kick out jerks that vandalize cool places like that tunnel, bridges, your car in the parking lot! Now that it is gone we could expect to see more damages and higher use fees to cover the damage costs! As a participant in any race, day or night, I like to know that the proper permission and insurance has been acquired, so if I do get into a pickle, some slick willy doesn’t take my event fee and blow it on Ale Asylum
    while I hang in the brambles all night. This all seems like some folks are taking a small item and spoon feeding it to the press for self promotion… What next?

    • To clarify, there is no expectation that revoking this rule would suddenly legalize vandalism or any other illegal activity on these trails.

      Also note that there was no fee for this event and no participant expectation of support or insurance.

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