Mountain bike trails get new life in West Bend
With 13 miles of roots, rocks & hills, this MTB trail system in West Bend is poised to become yet another single-track destination in the Kettle Moraine.
We all know the story; about 18,000 years ago the last of the glaciers receded from south-eastern Wisconsin, leaving us perfect terrain for mountain biking. Fast forward a few thousand years and a group of dedicated mountain bikers is taking over where the glaciers left off. Only a mile or two from downtown West Bend, the 208 acre Glacial Blue Hills Recreation Area (GBH or Blue) is part of the West Bend Park System and home to a beautiful system of single-track. GBH is thick with tall hardwoods and dotted with glacial formations. The park is bisected from North to South by the Ice Age National Scenic Trail and locals have been riding and maintaining a loose collection of MTB trails within the park for years. But with support from the city, the Glacial Edge Area Riding Society (GEARS) is upgrading the MTB trails into an organized network of managed trails for riders of all ages and abilities.
A trail map along with multiple GPS routes for Blue can be found the on the TrailForks website. As per TrailForks, there are currently about 13 miles of two-way trails in Blue. Nearly all the miles are single-track, with only a few short sections of double-track connecting bits of one trail to another. The trails are predominantly easy to intermediate, but there are plenty of rock & root covered climbs to challenge more experienced riders. And as is typical for the Kettle Moraine, the climbs are “punchy” – short & steep – so you gotta keep your head up and be ready with some power if you want to keep your feet off the ground. Much of the single track is tight and nearly all of it is underneath a tall canopy of light-filtering hardwoods.
The master plan
As great as the trails are already, they are getting better every day thanks to the efforts of GEARS and their team of enthusiastic and well organized local riders.
Earlier this year the “Glacial Blue Master Development Plan” was unanimously approved by the City of West Bend and the West Bend Park and Recreation Commission. The plan is very clear about its mission and opportunity: “With a little planning and work, this loose collection of independent trails can be crafted into one of the mountain biking gems of Southeastern Wisconsin.”
The GBH master plan and partnership with the city are critical for the future of the trails at GBH.
“A plan with this type of detail including a phased timeline is important because it helps lead the local bike organization, GEARS, and the City toward one common goal. . . This professional master plan will also support fund raising efforts. Potential donors appreciate this type of goal setting. . . Donors want to be part of a winning team.” Mike Jentsch, Director of Parks, Recreation and Forestry for the City of West Bend
The three-phase plan outlines the responsibilities of various stakeholders, relying on volunteers to lead the trail work and working with the city on planning and fundraising. A 5-person volunteer oversight committee consisting of seasoned Blue riders will provide governance over the volunteer work and act as a liaison to the city.
Phase one is predominantly dedicated to way-finding and making basic improvements to the existing trails. As per Craig Walker, a key leader and representative of GEARS, Phase One should be done in August 2020. Phase Two includes the development of new trails, some of which will be professionally contracted and machine built. New trails could include a pump track, berms, jumps, drops and the kinds of features typical of modern trails. Phase 2 has already begun, but Craig readily admits that it may take a while to be 100% complete, there’s always going to be demand for trail expansion and improvement. Phase Three is all about capital investments and will require significantly more support and partnership from the city. But capital improvements like new bathrooms and a paved parking lot will benefit all users of the park, not just mountain bikers.
How to support
Keep an eye on the GEARS and GBH Facebook pages for updates, events and fundraising opportunities. This has been, and always will be, a labor of love for the team behind Blue. But their plans are big, and fundraising will become more important as improvements continue.
Ride it today
Glacial Blue Hills is on a sliver of land just north of HWY 33 & west of HWY 45 in West Band. The best way to access the trails at Blue is to park in the lot on Beaver Dam Road, here’s a link to the parking lot location. Trail signage is going up fast and new trail construction is underway, but there is no reason to wait. The park is pretty easy to navigate and not large enough to get too lost. You can get your bearings in the parking lot, explore on your own or download a few routes from TrailForks. And be sure to cross the street and ride the trails on the south side too.