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Trails need to be designated as multipurpose to secure funding. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)

Group hopes to connect New Richmond to River Crossing loop trail

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Generations in the making, the St. Croix Crossing project is finally a reality promising increased commerce and prosperity on both sides of the river. That promise includes $10 million dollars for the development of an extensive trail component called the St. Croix River Crossing Loop Trail. For a diverse group of citizens representing communities from Somerset to St. Joseph, united by their passion for biking and hiking, they realize this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the time to act is now. Beside the $10 million for the Loop Trail system, the bridge budget includes mitigation funds available for ancillary projects that enhance the communities, culture and landscape surrounding the bridge.

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What began more than a year ago as a series of casual meetings over the kitchen table for Dave Mandel, Mark Vanasse and Rich Baillargeon has coalesced into the St. Croix Bike and Pedestrian Trail Coalition (SCBPTC). So far, the roster of members includes folks representing the City of Hudson, Town of Hudson, Village of North Hudson, City of New Richmond, Town of Richmond, Town of St. Joseph, Town of Somerset, Village of Somerset, Town of Star Prairie, and the Town of Troy.

“Everybody’s welcome,” said coalition Chairman Dave Mandel.

As word has spread and the mission has begun to take shape, the coalition has begun to explore what shape it will take legally to ensure its longevity and enable it to apply for grants and receive other donations.

The latest version of the SCBPTC’s mission statement lays out the ambitious agenda: “To support local governmental entities in the development of a multiuse pedestrian/bike trail system and road accommodations network across St. Croix County that connects to the St. Croix River Crossing Loop Trail, that creates safe recreational opportunities, that supports healthy lifestyles, that supports development of safe commuting, and that promotes tourism and commerce in the greater St. Croix County area.”

The complexity of the mission reflects the many voices at the table and foreshadows the enviable task of building consensus in a timely enough fashion to take advantage of funding opportunities.

Mandel summed up the challenge simply, “What are we going to do first and where are we going for the money?”

His answer was equally simple, “Connect something to that Loop Trail. From there, we can spider out.”

The bridge is scheduled to open in 2017 and the SCBPTC realizes time is of the essence. They have a complex task ahead of them if they expect to be in position to attract a share of the available funding. In addition to the mitigation funds, they’ve also targeted MAP 21 federal funds as well as private funding sources. To successfully qualify for grants, coalition routes must be defined as dual-purpose Mandel said.

“The biggest thing is a route or trail needs to be considered a bike/pedestrian or multipurpose trail system to qualify.”

The debate to determine what those purposes will include has just begun within the coalition.

Successful fundraising will require a coordinated comprehensive plan, a practical timetable which identifies deadlines for various grants and familiarity with the vocabulary used by the different granting and planning agencies including WisDOT and WDNR.

“There will be a need to understand various terminology used by different government agencies to precisely communicate what is needed or being described,” said Ellen Denzer, community development director for St. Croix County.

For example, she said the county recognizes three types of bike routes; routes that share a road with traffic are defined as bike routes. Bike lanes are designated by striping and signage. The remainder of routes are defined as off-road trails.

At its last meeting, the coalition introduced a series of maps identifying all of the known existing trails and bike routes throughout the county compiled by St. Croix County Resource Management Administrator Dave Heise. Each of the member communities has been asked to update its map to more accurately reflect the reality of its system. The updates will distinguish among existing, approved and proposed routes. The goal is to create a comprehensive map that shows the current status of all routes throughout the county in order to provide an overview. The coalition will determine which routes make sense to prioritize with respect to their accessibility to the Loop Trail and then from there to neighboring routes. Working backward from the expected bridge opening date in 2017, they will establish a timetable and identify funding sources to accomplish those priority routes.

The coalition must balance the immediate need for planning and coordination of priority routes and preparation of grant applications with long-term planning to integrate additional routes into the network as it becomes feasible. According to Mandel, the coalition expects to create plans that look out five to 10 years in the future.

The coalition is continuing to actively recruit additional members from communities and organizations not yet represented. The next coalition meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 9, starting at 6:30 p.m. at Somerset Town Hall. Contact the coalition at scbptc@gmail.com.

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