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by Justin Engebregtsen

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Trail Enhancement Project

Trail plan hinges on donations

Trail Enhancement Project

Private funds sought to pay for rerouting county bicycle path, building bridge over freeway

Ozaukee Press staff

Ozaukee County has been offered $1 million in state grants to reroute a hazardous section of the Ozaukee Interurban Bike Trail and build a bridge over I-43, but the fate of the project now hinges on a local fund-raising effort started last month.

The Interurban Trail Advisory Council's Sustainability Committee is charged with raising as much as $250,000 before the end of the year to reroute two miles of trail in the Town of Grafton that leads bicyclists and pedestrians along busy rural roads and high­ways.

"Instead of asking the taxpayers for money, we're trying to encourage people who feel this is important to our quality of life in Ozaukee County to contribute," County Administrator Tom Meaux said Tuesday. "It's an important project that involves improving safety, preserving the history of the trail and promoting economic development and tourism in the county."

Organizers are optimistic about the public's response, but the concept of relying on private donations to improve a trail funded primarily with public money from states and local sources is untested. It appears, however, to be the only way the improvement will become a reality.

The County Board grudgingly approved a request to apply for the $1 million grant last year, but made it clear tax dollars would not be used to fund the local share. The board must formally accept the grant if the project is to proceed and is expected to do so only if donations have been secured.

Andrew Struck, a county planner and chairman of the interurban Trail Advisory Council said the approval request will likely go to the County Board this fall.

Formally opened in September 2002, the 30 mile Ozaukee Interurban Trail runs the length of the county, primarily off-road along the path of the historic interurban railway. In places, however, the trail runs along rural roads, creating a safety concern in the Town of Grafton.

Traveling south between Port Washington and Grafton, the off-road trail ends just east of I-43 and continues on roadways - south on Ridgewood Road, west on Ulao Parkway across I-43, south on Highway W and west on Terminal Road -- before picking up the off-road interurban route again.

The new route would bypass those roads and highways following the path of the interurban railway all the way to I-43, where a pedestrian bridge designed to resemble the bike trail bridge over the Milwaukee River in Grafton would span the freeway. On the west side of I-43 the trail would continue off-road along he south side of Fire Ridge Golf Course, then jog due south to connect with Terminal Road.

The project is important, Struck said, because it would keep bicyclists, who now have to cross and ride along the heavily traveled Highway W, off the thoroughfare. He also pointed out that the Ulao Parkway bridge across I-43 has low railings and is poorly suited to bicycle and pedestrian traffic, and residential development along Ridgewood Road has increased traffic in the area.

In addition, the project would improve the reputation of a trail that has already gained recognition throughout the state, Struck said. The Ozaukee Interurban Trail is one of the first in the state to be named a Great Wisconsin Birding Trail by the Department of Natural Resources. It is also listed in the Wisconsin Department of Tourism's state biking guide.

Trail construction is expected to begin next July with the one year I-43 bridge project to begin in July 2006.

Several sponsorship packages, including the naming rights for the new section of trail, are being offered to attract donations, Struck said.

The county is also applying for other grants to defray the cost of the project. Struck said organizers hope a $125,000 grant from the DNR Stewardship Fund will cover half the local cost of the project.

For more information about the project or making a donation, contact Andrew Struck at 284-8270