I mentioned on Wednesday that Bike Friendly West Bend’s plan for a network of city bike routes has taken too many political hits lately to be realistic in the short term. But that plan is only one of the group’s initiatives. BFWB wants to advocate for better cycling throughout Washington County, not just in West Bend, and to that end it is partnering with the county’s Planning & Parks Department on a countywide route plan.
As Wisconsin counties go, Washington County isn’t very big. With a total area of 436 square miles, it’s the 5th-smallest county in the state. But we have great road density. The county’s highway department maintains 1,100 lane miles, and municipalities like the City of West Bend maintain hundreds more within their corporate limits. Some of those roads aren’t suitable for bike routes, but overall it’s an embarrassment of riches. What criteria should the county use to determine which roads are part of the bike route network? How should it balance the equally valid demands of transportation and recreation? I won’t try to sort that out today, but I can assure you the routes will develop over many years in piecemeal fashion. A complex series of seemingly unrelated road and trail construction projects eventually will mature into the completed network.
That long timeline can be discouraging, but every great journey begins with a single step, right? So, here’s an idea: let’s connect Lizard Mound and Sandy Knoll county parks to each other and to nearby residential neighborhoods in the Town of Trenton. (The suggestion to use new trails to link existing county parks got 95% approval from county residents who responded to survey published in 2014.) Lizard Mound features Native American effigy mounds—it’s a cool place, but it’s underutilized because it can be accessed only from County Highway A. That means nobody is going there on foot or by bicycle. Sandy Knoll is one of the county’s most popular properties, a good place for picnics, swimming, and hiking. The parks are just half a mile apart “as the crow flies,” but 3.5 miles apart by the shortest on-street route.
The map above shows how to tie everything together in a way that I think will increase attendance at Lizard Mound but I know will benefit residents near Sandy Knoll. The blue line is a 2,300-foot-long section of Wallace Lake Road that connects Eastwood Trail, a quiet residential street, to the park road entrance for Sandy Knoll. I see dog walkers and people on bikes along that section all the time. There’s no sidewalk and no paved shoulder. Let’s make an off-road path there, or at least make wide shoulders on the road itself. Then let’s connect Eastwood Trail, Jubilee Court, and Forest View Drive with a new 1,500-foot-long path in the power line corridor shown above in purple. A lot of kids live in those neighbors and they don’t have a proper park. This plan gives them a safe route to Sandy Knoll.
Making the connection from Sandy Knoll to Lizard Mound could be fairly simple too. There’s an existing farmer’s path (shown above in orange) that links Lizard Mound to Newark Drive. Public access to that path could be gained by acquisition … say, a 100-foot-wide corridor with the path at its center, not unlike the Eisenbahn State Trail. But at the moment there’s no reason to think the County Board would spend money to acquire new park property. The best solution could be an easement: simply get permission from the farmer. In either case, preserve access to the corridor for farming and improve the path to make it easy to traverse by bicycle or by farm vehicles. Then it becomes a great deal for the farmer, who will have easier access to adjacent cropland and no maintenance to perform on the path. With that piece in place, all that remains is to link the farmer’s path to Sandy Knoll.
The red line on the map shows a 2,500-foot segment of Newark Drive, ideal for a new off-road path or wider paved shoulder. As drawn, the line connects the farmer’s path to a now-closed vehicle entrance to Sandy Knoll. That entrance already is popular with cyclists. But there’s another way to make this link. It’s just 550 feet from the farmer’s path to the intersection of Newark Drive and Trenton Road, the northwest corner of Sandy Knoll. At that corner you will find an unpaved trail currently used by hikers and snowmobiles. Eliminate the ridiculous rule that keeps bicycles off Sandy Knoll’s trails and you’ve got nothing more to build.
From Forest View Drive to the parking lot at Lizard Mound, this is a 3-mile-long system, roughly half of which already exists. It would take only a modest effort to make all the links. Trenton residents would benefit immediately from better access between the neighborhoods and to Sandy Knoll, and in the long term this system could be part of an even greater network of bicycle routes across the entire county.