Communities throughout the Fox Valley are investing in projects and programs to make cycling safer, more attractive and convenient.
Just as with motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians rely on a seamless, robust network of facilities that transcend municipal boundaries to reach their destinations. All too often, the municipal divide in these bicycle and pedestrian facilities is obvious, which can lead to confusing, inconvenient, and oftentimes dangerous gaps in the network. To create and bolster a robust and safe network, communities and organizations through the Fox Valley region have been collaborating on projects.
Interest from communities in regional bicycle and pedestrian planning spurred East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission’s (ECWRPC) Appleton (Fox Cities) Transportation Management Area and Oshkosh Metropolitan Planning Organization Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, which covers the urbanized areas of Calumet, Outagamie, and Winnebago counties. This plan is a culmination of local and regional plans and visionary thinking to create a truly regionally significant bicycle and pedestrian network. In creating this plan a mix of stakeholders, including law enforcement, parks and recreation professionals, heath department staff, planners, nonprofit organizations, and community members, were involved. To ensure this plan doesn’t sit on the shelf, it relies on a stakeholder advisory team to guide the direction and implementation of the plan.
While the plan sets a tone for bicycle and pedestrian connections at a regional level, it is lofty and advisory—meaning there is nothing that mandates these facilities are created. What keeps the progress moving forward is the shared vision, dedication, and efforts of local communities and organizations. These bicycle and pedestrian connections seek to appease both those looking for new recreational opportunities and those looking to actively commute to their destinations; they also create access to the natural beauty and history of northeast Wisconsin’s Fox Valley region. These connections are happening at a quickening pace, providing new opportunities for residents and visitors alike. To date, the Fox Valley region boasts over 340 miles of trails and bicycle-friendly routes.
Loop the Locks
The neighboring communities of Little Chute, Appleton, Kaukauna, and Kimberly partnered through grant funding provided by Outagamie County to complete a regionally connecting network dubbed as Loop the Locks. Upon completion, this network will span a 13-mile loop through the Heart of the Valley Region featuring views of the Fox River in all the communities, the Konkapot Creek in Kaukauna, river locks and dams in Little Chute and Kimberly, and newly constructed trestle bridges in Kaukauna, Little Chute, and Appleton. Progress continues on construction with an estimated loop completion of fall 2021. Many segments are substantially complete at this time, with active construction ongoing making huge strides in the progress of this trail. While Outagamie County was the impetus behind this vision to fill in existing gaps, local nonprofits, community organizations, and other funding organizations stepped in to help make this vision a reality.
Loop the Little Lake
What started as a connection between two communities via a rail trestle crossing Little Lake Butte des Morts that was established in 2005 recently evolved into a 3.5-mile loop that connects the cities of Neenah and Menasha and the Village of Fox Crossing. Putting everything in place involved tremendous coordination, involving the municipalities and community partners. The municipalities coordinated their funding efforts to ultimately see this loop come to completion through fundraisers, working with nonprofit organizations, like Fox Cities Greenways and Future Neenah, and submitting grant applications. Now fully completed, Loop the Little Lake takes visitors and residents over four trestles to view Little Lake Butte des Morts, historic paper mills, native shorelines, parks, the Menasha Locks, and the Miron Lift Bridge.
These current and future efforts complement existing trail and on-road systems. The WIOUWASH State Trail and the Friendship State Trail can quickly transport an urban bicyclist to prairies, farmland, and woodlands that comprise the urban fringe of the Fox Valley region. The Tribal Heritage Crossing trail, along with trails that lie adjacent to County Highways CE and CB, allow for recreational and transportation opportunities that can transport trail users from one community to another.
These partnerships extend beyond communities working together. These efforts are interwoven with engaged community members, businesses, nonprofits, donors/grantors, and partner organizations. Without these key players in place, many of these projects would face significant challenges and barriers to their completion. Both the Fox Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley serve as champions for our trails through grants programs to fund trail-related projects and activities, including active roles in both Loop the Little Lake and Loop the Locks projects. Fox Cities Greenways, Inc. is a local non-profit dedicated to preserving and maintaining the trails in the region through cleanups, grants programs, leveraging funding for local projects, and supporting communities in their efforts to expand and create new bicycle and pedestrian accommodations.
In addition to having a robust network, it is imperative that we educate and encourage people to safely use it. Local bicycling and running clubs not only help expand the trail network, they also promote our trails by providing races and social activities and organizing volunteer events. The WI Bike Fed serves as a valuable educational asset to ensure people can safely and confidently navigate the network.
Collaboration and partnerships continue to steer the progress of the expanding, connected bicycle and pedestrian network. At the time this article is being written, ECWRPC has partnered with Fox Cities Greenways and the Community Foundation of the Fox Valley Region to host a Trail Summit. This Summit will bring together communities in the Fox Valley region to identify critical connections and gaps in the network and to discuss solutions to closing the existing gaps in the network and ensuring we are serving the transportation needs of all in our communities.
The future of the trail system in the Fox Valley is encouraging, and we are excited to see what new visions local communities and partners have for collaborative projects.
There are simply too many projects and partners to create a full list, but if you’re interested, please come and visit the Fox Valley region and see these amazing trails. For more information on local partners or projects or to receive a copy of a map, please visit www.ecwrpc.org or foxcitiesgreenways.org. We would also like to thank those who helped contribute to this article!