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Trail extension gets closer to reality in New Richmond

With the pending donation five acres of land to the City of New Richmond, an important north-south link for the community's trail system may soon come to pass.

Bill and Gail Buell, owners of local feed and seed company Domain Inc., are poised to sign over property along the Willow River for use as a public trail.

The land donation comes with a couple stipulations. The city must designate a bicycle and pedestrian route that will link the new trail to the Rail Bridge Trail toward the south and Hatfield Park to the north. A fence must also be installed along the trail section close to Domain to provide security for the business.

New Richmond's Parks Committee and Streets Committee met in a joint session Wednesday, April 25, to consider the donation, the establishment of a complete north-south trail and the possible application for a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources grant that would help make the project possible.

Both committees voted unanimously to support the project.

"I want to thank you," committee member and New Richmond City Council Alderman Craig Kittel told Bill Buell. "I think it's a great project. I see our trails getting used more and more every day. I think they're a good addition to the city."

Buell said the stars have aligned to make the trail project possible.

"It's important for us to have places for our citizens to go," he said. "That's what drives me to make this offer."

Parks and Recreation Director Joe Kerlin noted that, if approved by the City Council, the southern portion of the community trail would begin at Rail Bridge Trail, head west on Sixth Street West, then north of South Dakota Avenue. The route would then take a right on Second Street West, then another left on Minnesota Avenue and end near the dam across the Willow River. Bikers or walkers would then have to cross the dam on foot or navigate their way along Knowles Avenue to get to the other side. Future plans call for the possible installation of a trail bridge over the Willow River.

The proposed trail, which would use city streets, would be designated a "bike route." The designation is different from a previous proposal, which would have established an actual bike lane on the roadways, thus eliminating parking for residents along the route.

The current plan would stripe and sign the route, but parked cars, bicycles and pedestrians would all be allowed to use the space.

From the northern end of the new trail, according to Kerlin, the bike route would cross High Street and follow Pierce for several blocks before heading west on Third Street North for a block. The route would then head north on North Dakota Avenue until it reached North Shore Drive West. The route would follow that road to the east until it reached the park connection at Hatfield Court.

Kerlin reported that a north-south trail has been the subject of serious debate since 2005. The idea nearly came together two years ago, but homeowner concerns along the proposed route derailed the effort at that time.

"This is the best route we can come up with," said Police Chief Mark Samelstad. "We're highly supportive. Now's the time to make this connection. We've got to get it done."

Kerlin said the complete trail will provide a safe way for kids and adults to get from the southern end of town to Hatfield.

"People will no longer have to ride their bikes or walk along Knowles Avenue," he said.

Kerlin estimated the trail project cost at about $206,000. The city will apply for a Department of Natural Resources grant that would cover about $103,000 of the total pricetag, which would include a paved trail, fencing, lights, benches and more.

The city's matching portion of the project would include the appraised value of the donated land ($50,000) and some in-kind work that would be done by the Parks Department. The city's cash contribution would be no more than $53,000, Kerlin suggested.

"We're going to do what we can to bring down that number," Kerlin said of the $53,000 cost.

He noted that numerous businesses, organizations and individuals have endorsed the project, including the Vitality Initiative, New Richmond Area Community Foundation, New Richmond Pathways Committee, Westfields Hospital, The Centre, New Richmond Area Chamber of Commerce and more.

Kerlin said the Buell trail would likely include scenic viewing areas and a possible canoe launch on the Willow River.

Gary Bakke, a local attorney who has been working on the trail idea, said the proposed trail is an amazing piece of property that few people know about.

"This is going to change your perception of New Richmond," he said. "It's beautiful back there."

The trail project and grant application will likely be considered by the City Council during its May 14 meeting.