It’s no secret — the political atmosphere in Wisconsin is a challenging one to navigate. After spinning our wheels on legislative initiatives that were deemed polarizing or not worth the time of the legislature, we knew we needed to make a change.
How can we engage our elected officials in a way that won’t be viewed as partisan or politicking? How can we demonstrate that whether you sit on the left or right side of the aisle, a love for Wisconsin’s outdoors – especially via two wheels! – is universal? We needed to find the answers to these questions in order to advance cycling throughout the state as well as our advocacy efforts at the Capitol.
Looking Through a New Lens: Connectors & Connections
The answer came through exploring new lenses through which we look at how we can further our advocacy outreach and legislative goals. We need to connect on a personal level with our legislators, and we need to show the value constituents hold for cycling throughout the state. With these objectives in mind, we have coined a new outlook we’re calling Connectors & Connections — an opportunity to prioritize the connectors that cyclists in our state enjoy, the connections between Bike Fed and Wisconsin cyclists, members, and elected leaders, and the relationship-building opportunities both of these avenues have when pursued in tandem.
Under the Connectors & Connections mind frame, we have identified key connectors — projects — that are important to cyclists from every corner of the state, and pinpointed invaluable connections — people — at the advocacy, government, and business levels to advance our collective goals for Wisconsin cycling.
1. Highland Bike and Pedestrian Path – Ozaukee County
The Mequon Community Foundation has been working diligently to connect the Mequon Rotary Park with the Ozaukee Interurban Trail through a new 1.5 mile paved bike and pedestrian path. The project would not only increase interconnectivity between Mequon/Thiensville area trails, but also add opportunities for active transportation and advance recreational uses in the area. Bike Fed worked with project leaders and assisted in getting a Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant application submitted earlier this year. We are excited to share that the Highland Bike/Pedestrian Path is now fully funded and will become a reality for the community.
2. Highway 67 Tunnel – Waukesha County
In 2016, work on the intersection of Hwy 67 and I-94 in Oconomowoc had been completed. Along with the road construction and updates, a tunnel underneath the highway was planned and started to give bikes and pedestrians using the Lake Country Trail safe passage on the now expanded highway. After applying for and receiving funding through the state’s Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) – money available for non-motorized projects – bids to complete the project came back higher than anticipated, and the City of Oconomowoc was unable to finish the tunnel. Bike Fed has been working alongside Waukesha County to find a funding option, and we are happy to report that Waukesha County was successful in receiving a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) grant that will fully fund the completion of the project, expected this summer.
3. Fox River Trail – Brown County
The Fox River Trail is a landmark trail in northeast Wisconsin, spanning 26.3 miles from Green Bay down to Hilbert. With over 2 million visitors since 1999, it was one of the state’s most-used trails. With high volume usage also comes higher needs for maintenance and repairs. Specifically, sections of the trail are in need of repaving so that people using the trail by both foot and wheel can do so safely and enjoyably. Bike Fed has been working alongside local advocates and elected officials to get the trail the maintenance it needs. Brown County has applied for funds to complete repaving this summer and is anticipating an answer this spring.
4. Wagon Wheel Connector – La Crosse County
Much like the spokes on a wheel, the Wagon Wheel Connector project in La Crosse would serve as a hub of interconnectivity for hundreds of miles of trails between Wisconsin and Minnesota communities. While the actual project is quite small – less than a mile long – the benefits for trail users on the state’s western coast would be far-reaching. The project involved creating a protected two-way bike and pedestrian lane on an already-existing bridge that connects La Crescent, Minnesota and La Crosse, Wisconsin. On the Minnesota side, their portion of the project will be complete soon. It’s now time for the Wisconsin side to step up and get this project underway. Local stakeholders submitted a Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant early this year. We are pleased to report that the grant has been approved and the project will be moving forward.
5. White River Trail Extension – Racine County
The White River Trail Extension project has been in the works for years, looking to add 11 miles to the White River State Trail between Union Grove and Sturtevant. The extension, which is also part of the Rails to Trails Route of the Badger, would add miles of interconnectivity for those in southeastern Wisconsin. In 2021, a huge step forward was taken when the rail corridor was successfully negotiated for, an offer accepted, and the deal closed.
Now comes the next phase: decisions on who gets to use the trail, and funding the trail’s actual construction. Bike Fed has been working with the stakeholders who secured the rail corridor to understand where we can be helpful in this next phase of the project. We’ll be working alongside locals to advocate for options that will be best for bicycling and walking, and serving as a resource on funding options and opportunities for construction.
6. Wisconsin River Bridge – Sauk County
The Wisconsin River Bridge project would connect two of southern Wisconsin’s scenic trails – the Great Sauk State Trail and the Walking Iron Trail – via a 500 foot bridge over the Wisconsin River. When completed, the bridge would further connect Dane and Sauk Counties’ trail systems, creating a true trail destination for walkers, bikers, and hikers. With Dane County and Sauk County both committing $2 million each to funding the project, Bike Fed has been working closely with agency and county officials in finding the next steps for funding opportunities for the bridge.
7. Omaha Trail – Juneau County
The Omaha Trail is a lesser-known gem of central Wisconsin, spanning from Elroy to Camp Douglas for around 13 miles – including an 800-foot tunnel and 19 bridge structures over its scenic route. Nestled in the heart of Juneau County, the trail has not had surface maintenance or updates done since the 1980s due to a lack of funding available at the county level. With outdoor recreation becoming even more popular in the last few years, the County has been working to find options to get some very necessary maintenance done on the trail. Bike Fed has been working alongside the Juneau County Parks Department in conjunction with its Finance Committee to find funding sources that could help the County achieve its maintenance and repair goals for the trail.
8. Granite Peak – Marathon County
Granite Peak is one of, if not the most well-known ski area in the state. The slopes are nestled into Rib Mountain State Park, which is currently undergoing its scheduled master planning process through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
DNR master planning involves laying out the future of what our outdoor recreation opportunities look like in different sectors of the state. In the case of Rib Mountain State Park, this master planning process has huge implications for mountain biking, the local economy, tourism opportunities, and so much more. The DNR is currently working on a new master plan that could allow for mountain biking opportunities throughout Granite Peak and broader Rib Mountain – something that could and would draw outdoor enthusiasts from not just all over the state, but all over the country. Bike Fed is doing everything we can to ensure these amazing opportunities are included in the updated master plan for Rib Mountain State Park and Granite Peak. There are currently four different options for the future park plan. The options range from little to no change in Option 1 to Option 4, which would include the addition of lifts, a mountain bike terrain, mountain coasters, and more. The Bike Fed is working with local stakeholders, elected officials, and WDNR staff to advocate for Option 4.
9. 30th Street Corridor – Milwaukee County
The 30th Street Corridor project is a vision for a paved, shared-use trail from Havenwoods State Forest to Hank Aaron State Trail near American Family Field. Also a part of the Rails to Trails Route of the Badger, when completed, it would span 6.7 miles, increasing interconnectivity and active transportation options for underserved parts of Milwaukee. This section of trail would offer not only a much-appreciated route for walkers, bikers, shoppers, and commuters, but would also serve as a community asset that promotes public health, safety, and economic development for Milwaukee neighborhoods that have been overlooked for years.
Bike Fed has been working closely with State Representative Evan Goyke and Rails to Trails Conservancy on pursuing funding opportunities, increasing awareness and buy-in, and engaging community members, business owners, and leaders on the importance of the project.
10. Flyway Trail – Buffalo County
The Flyway Trail is a multi-phase project in western Wisconsin with an end goal of creating a continuous 108-mile trail between Winona, MN and Reedsburg, WI. Phase 1 of the project from Winona to Buffalo, WI has been completed, and now eyes are set on getting Phase 2 underway. The second phase takes the trail from Buffalo to the Great River Road Trail in Marshland, increasing connectivity for other trails in the area as well. Currently, local stakeholders are working on getting an engineering study completed for this next phase, after which a budget can be developed. Bike Fed is on hand with these local advocates to assist in funding opportunities when they have a set budget.
11. Stewart Tunnel – Dane County
The Stewart Tunnel is an iconic biking landmark here in Wisconsin, providing shade and cooler temperatures to Badger State Trail users through its .25 mile curved tunnel. Unfortunately, the Stewart Tunnel has been closed since catastrophic rain events in 2018. Years later, trail-goers are still left wondering when this important piece of biking infrastructure and Wisconsin history will be restored. Bike Fed is currently working with local stakeholders and state agencies to address the biggest barrier for the Stewart Tunnel repair: funding. Because of the unique nature of the tunnel, we are exploring less-utilized funding opportunities.
12. River Trail – Vilas County
The River Trail is a project that would add 10 miles to the already stunning Heart of Vilas trail system. With Vilas County being a premier bicycling destination, the River Trail would be a great addition for cycling locals and tourists alike. The major roadblock for this project comes from a use perspective – who gets to use the path? While local bicycling stakeholders reached a compromise with snowmobilers to share the path, ATV’s now want a piece of the pie. With that increased use – especially for recreational uses that share seasons – comes more complex design and funding needs. Bike Fed is working with the local stakeholders to find a path forward for the project.
13. Glacial Drumlin & Capital City Trail Connector – Dane County
Madison and Milwaukee are the state’s two largest cities – it only makes sense to have a cohesive, connected trail to connect the two metropolitans. Residents and visitors of Madison have utilized the beautiful Capital City trail that winds around Madison’s lakes and downtown while reaching to more suburban areas. Meanwhile, the 52 mile Glacial Drumlin trail draws users from all over the state with trailheads in Cottage Grove and Waukesha. Connecting these two trails would be an important piece of the puzzle to connecting Madison and Milwaukee. Most cyclists agree that the most challenging aspect of the trek from Milwaukee to Madison (and back again) is the short stint between Cottage Grove and the beginning of the Capital City Trail due to the busy roads being unsafe for those on two wheels. Bike Fed is working diligently with agency, the City of Madison, and Dane County officials to get conversations moving forward with the railway who owns the land on which this project would need to be completed.
Keep Wisconsin Biking Strong!
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