Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Split Personality Of The Riverfront Parkway

West Bend’s original bike route: the Riverfront Parkway.

In my earliest days as a cyclist, before there was an Eisenbahn State Trail, the Riverfront Parkway featured prominently. I still use it today, though never its entire length. I like each end of the parkway but the middle does nothing for me as it runs through downtown West Bend, parallel to the Eisenbahn and far less efficient.

When you ride the 4.7 miles of the asphalt-paved Eisenbahn from Rusco Drive to Northwestern Avenue, the experience is consistent and predictable. I mean that in a good way. By contrast, the Riverfront Parkway is sometimes this and sometimes that. On the east side of Riverside Park, it’s a narrow gravel path. Then it’s paved. Then it’s a sidewalk as it runs along Auxiliary Court and Veterans Avenue. The section from Washington Street north to the bridge at Rivershores is nice enough, but how do you get to it? And then you’re on the sidewalk again until you reach Park Avenue. Tracing the west side of Barton Pond, the remaining section of the parkway is great until it unceremoniously ends at Roosevelt Drive.

If you ride the parkway from end to end, you may be left with the impression that you journeyed from nowhere to nowhere. This proposed bike route system would use only the northernmost half mile of the parkway to create a car-free connection between Regner Park and Barton that skirts around the hill on Main Street. The rest of the parkway just isn’t ready for prime time. Aside from its other shortcomings, the parkway suffers from inconsistent maintenance. Entire sections are blocked by snow in the winter and by flooding in the spring, reappearing only when Mother Nature permits.

Still, there is some reason to hope that eventually the parkway will morph into the west end of the long-promised Milwaukee River Trail. It wouldn’t take much to connect the parkway to the trails in Quaas Creek Park, and from Quaas Creek Park the city wants to extend a rough trail east to the airport. Following the contours of the river, a trail from Quaas Creek Park to Newburg would be just 8.5 miles, and much of the land is owned by the city, the county, the Town of Trenton, and the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust. A fully realized Milwaukee River Trail is years away at best, but it’s an intriguing possibility. For now, the parkway is just what it always has been: a trail whose individual parts are strangely more valuable than their sum.

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