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Bike coalition hopes to develop new trails

Tim Whitzmann (left) and Mark Gherty are members of the St. Croix Bike Coalition. They hope to help develop a system of bike trails in western Wisconsin that will connect to the new St. Croix River Crossings loop trail. (Photo by Doug Stohlberg)

Members of the St. Croix Bike Coalition told members of the Hudson Rotary Club last week that the organization hopes to develop a bike trail system in western Wisconsin that will connect to the loop trail planned for construction with the new St. Croix River crossing between Houlton and Stillwater.

Tim Whitzmann and Mark Gherty said the coalition hopes to take advantage of the opportunity for bike trails that will enhance both recreational opportunities and the economic impact of tourism in western Wisconsin.

The new river crossing includes a 4.7 mile loop trail that will cross the new bridge into Minnesota, going north along Minnesota Highway 95 into Stillwater, cross the old Stillwater lift bridge back into Wisconsin and loop back south to the new bridge on the Wisconsin side.

“The coalition seeks to develop trails to connect to the new loop system,” Whitzmann said. The ultimate goal is to develop independent trials — not just a lane along a busy highway.

It may sound simple enough, but the process is complicated, often involving the Department of Transportation, state tourism department, the DNR and local governmental units including the county and various towns and cities.

The county is currently seeking a federal grant to assist in the planning of a trail system.

“There are federal funding opportunities,” Whitzmann said. “The county is currently applying for a Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant to update a bike plan for the entire county.”

Gherty said bikes trails offer an economic boost for communities along a route.

“In the state of Wisconsin we know that deer hunting has a $1.3 billion dollar impact,” Gherty said. “You might be surprised to know that bikers’ economic impact is very close to that — $900 million.

“We’ve got to get the various departments talking. Western Wisconsin is sort of a black hole when it comes to bike trails.”

Both men said with construction of the new bridge, there should be a trail connecting the new bridge with the I-94 bridge in Hudson. There should also be connections to Willow River State Park and other communities like Somerset and New Richmond.

“This is a grassroots effort,” Whitzmann said.

On the Minnesota side of the river there is already an extensive network of bike trails that will funnel into the loop in Stillwater. Among the connections into the city will be a new bike trail along the old Minnesota Zephyr railroad track bed. The Zephyr dinner train ran out of Stillwater for more than 20 years before selling the train corridor to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for $4.25 million; the land will be the site of the new Brown’s Creek State Trail.

The St. Croix Bike and Pedestrian Coalition’s mission is to support St. Croix County and local municipalities in the development of a multi-use pedestrian/bike trail system and road accommodations network throughout the county that connects to St. Croix River Crossing Loop Trail, creates safe commuting and recreational opportunities, encourages healthy life-styles, and promotes tourism and commerce in the greater St. Croix County area.

Doug Stohlberg

Doug Stohlberg has been part of the Hudson Star-Observer since 1973 and has been editor since 1987. He worked at the New Richmond News from 1971 to 1973. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.

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