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Grant will help New Richmond fill missing trail link

When it comes to New Richmond's trail system, for years it's been a tale of two cities.

Trails have been developed on the south side of the Willow River, and trails have been developed on the north.

But there has never been a real pathway linking the north to the south.

That problem will be solve over the coming months as a new trail, tentatively dubbed the Doughboy Trail, will be completed along the edge of the Domain Inc. property in the heart of the community.

A few weeks ago, the city received confirmation that it had received a $103,000 grant from the state Recreational Trail Aid program. The city now awaits payment of the grant from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The matching grant was made possible by the generous donation of land along the Willow River by Bill and Gail Buell, New Richmond, owners of the local feed and seed company Domain Inc.

The land donation came 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.

The land donation came as a result of work done by a pathways subcommittee, made up of Irv Sather, Jim Heebink, Gary Bakke and Bill Buell.

According to Joe Kerlin, the city's parks and recreation director, the overall cost of the trail project will end up being about $206,000. With a combination of fundraising efforts and city employee labor to accomplish some of the work, Kerlin said he hopes the final cost to taxpayers for the new trail will only be about $20,000.

"This link has been part of our pathways and pedestrian plan since 1994," he said. "It was always our goal to get people off of Knowles. The stars have aligned and everything has worked out now."

If the grant comes this fall, Kerlin said some work on buckthorn eradication could be done yet this year. He expects most of the work, including the paving of the trail, to be done in 2013.

"I'd love to see it all done next year," he said. "That would be the goal."

The city has already received some help from the St. Croix County Parks Department in getting the project started. The process of securing the necessary permits has begun and county officials are assisting with that task.

To make sure the project moves forward, Kerlin and trail supporters will be approaching area residents seeking donations to cover a portion of the project's costs.

Kerlin said local organizations and individuals will have an opportunity to donate to the trail development. Items like picnic tables, benches, bicycle racks and more could be purchased through such donations.

Another fundraising idea is to sell commemorative pavers that will be installed at the beginning of the trail connection, near the Willow River dam. The pavers would have the name of each donor inscribed on them.

The bricks for that project were recovered from New Richmond's historic downtown, when the old main street was torn up several years ago.

When the trail link is finished, the pathway will be lighted to allow for evening and night use. There will also be areas where people can stop and enjoy the beauty of their surroundings.

"This is not only a huge connection, it's going to be a nice area too," Kerlin said. "People will want to walk this area just for the enjoyment of it."

Long-range plans are to expand the Doughboy Trail recreational area, when more funding becomes available. Kerlin said land along High Street, currently owned by the railroad, may be purchased and a nature trail and park developed on that land.

Trail supporters also hope to construct a new pedestrian bridge over the Willow River, providing better access to the trail. That portion of the project could turn out to be rather expensive, Kerlin admitted.

When the "Doughboy Trail" is finished, users will be able to travel freely from one end of the community to the other. 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.

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, 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.

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.