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St. Croix Bike and Pedestrian Coalition anticipates feasibility study to begin this summer

Coalition co-founders (from left) Tim Witzmann, Mark Vanasse and David Mandel pose in their biking shirts at a Highway 35 closure point in the Town of St. Joseph. (Submitted photo)

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 the St. Croix River Crossing Loop Trail, creates safe commuting and recreational opportunities, encourages healthy lifestyles, and promotes tourism and commerce in the greater St. Croix County area.

Following the approval of a Resolution of Commitment and Support for Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) 2014-18 Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) award cycle by the St. Croix County Community Development Committee at its meeting March 27, the coalition is one step closer to realizing its mission.

“There’s been a lot of progress in developing a sustainable coalition in the past few months,” said Dave Mandel, president of the St. Croix Bike and Pedestrian Coalition.

The resolution enabled St. Croix County to apply for $120,000 in TAP Grant funds to develop a county-wide comprehensive bike and pedestrian plan. TAP grants are 80 percent federally funded but are administered by the state. Coalition member Mark Vanasse is confident the county will receive the funding and that a feasibility study can begin this summer.

“We are supposed to hear about approval of the TAP funds the first part of June. Western Wisconsin really doesn’t have an extensive off-road trail system like Madison or Milwaukee. This is our opportunity to connect with a system like that (in Minnesota) and to develop one in our own county, but nothing can be done until a firm plan is drawn up,” Vanasse said.

The impetus to form the coalition initially came from the new St. Croix Crossing project, which includes $10 million to develop the St. Croix River Crossing Loop Trail (The Loop Trail) which will incorporate new trails on both the Minnesota and Wisconsin sides of the St. Croix River. The Minnesota side of the trail is scheduled to be completed in 2016 while the Wisconsin side is scheduled to be built in 2017.

The feasibility study funded by the TAP grant will evaluate the demand and impact of bike and pedestrian trail plans of communities within reach of the Loop Trail and generate a coordinated overall plan with a timetable for connecting those communities to the Loop Trail over the next five years.

“Right now we’re still working off of the 2008 plan St. Croix County set up before this new bridge project. This study will look at the various planning stages of all the communities up and down the corridor to coordinate and develop an extensive bridge and pedestrian trail map,” Vanasse said.

“One of the coalition’s priorities is trying to get a connection top down from the Loop Trail through Hudson to the I-94 bridge to connect that trail system to the Minnesota side,” Mandel said.

He added, future priorities include connecting to Willow River State Park from Stillwater and eventually connecting trails to Somerset and New Richmond.

The coalition consists of two parts, the municipality side, whose role is to make recommendations to townships, villages and cities, and the citizen and bike loop side.

“Right now our members are reviewing a set of bylaws setting up a 501(c)(3) so we can work with the DNR and other bike and trail enthusiasts to actually develop trails,” Vanasse said.

He explained the coalition is not seeking funding from the new bridge project but is constrained by the new bridge project timetable.

“We need to take the proper steps now so we can start attracting federal and private dollars into our communities over the next five years,” Vanasse said.

Using the TAP funds to create an overall plan will ensure communities are in a position to take advantage of the the Loop Trail resource by the time it is constructed in 2017. Becoming a 501(c)(3) ensures the coalition’s sustainability and enables it to become a real facilitator in the development of new trails and expand its role as a broker of regional bike and pedestrian trail information up and down the river.

To learn more about the St. Croix Bike and Pedestrian Coalition visit its page on Facebook or at stcroixtrails. com.

The next coalition meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 2, at the Hudson Public Library.