Lately the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has been talking about a concept called the Route of the Badger, a long-term plan to link the various multi-use trails of southern Wisconsin into a coherent network. The map above shows the relationship between trails and railroads in our area. You can see clearly that making connections will be easier in some places than in others.
Here in Washington County, the Eisenbahn State Trail has no close neighbors and there are no abandoned railroad corridors to develop into traditional rails-to-trails projects. The Eisenbahn is a mostly north-south trail between two other mostly north-south trails: the Wild Goose State Trail and the Ozaukee Interurban. But it’s not hard to imagine that the Eisenbahn and the Wild Goose will meet in Fond du Lac someday, or that Fond du Lac and Sheboygan will be linked by an extended Old Plank Road Trail. If that’s the future at the north end, then how can we tie things together at the south end?
On Thursday I wrote about a rails-with-trails extension of the Eisenbahn from West Bend to Highway 60 in Jackson. That would make for an interesting alignment, as the Wild Goose also terminates at Highway 60 and the Ozaukee Interurban intersects with Highway 60 in Grafton. From a planning perspective, the easiest link would be a new “Highway 60 Trail” that works just like the Old Plank Road Trail, which runs parallel to Highway 23. But a trail that feels like a frontage road is OK only for short distances or from a transportation alternatives perspective; most recreational riders wouldn’t enjoy it.
So, let’s imagine a rails-with-trails component to our southern connector route for the Wild Goose, the Eisenbahn and the Ozaukee Interurban. Start at Minnesota Junction and head east through Horicon, Iron Ridge, Hartford and Slinger:
That’s 25 miles of car-free riding! Now follow Highway 60 for just 6 miles from Slinger to the new southern terminus of the Eisenbahn in Jackson. From that point it’s only 7 more miles to Horns Corners Road on the northwest side of Cedarburg. We can expect the Highway 60 corridor to continue to attract commercial and residential development, so between Slinger and Cedarburg we can make a case for a parallel trail as a commuter enhancement. A 0.5-mile portion of Highway 60 in Jackson is already designated as a bike lane, and there’s an existing 1-mile bike path on the north side of Highway 60 from Horns Corners Road to Washington Avenue. From Washington Avenue it’s just 2 more miles to the Ozaukee Interurban.
Obviously a project like this would be hugely expensive with many political, legal and technical challenges. But wouldn’t it be cool? The desire for a practical, off-street bike route that crosses Washington County from east to west has led me to explore ideas that include utility corridors and waterways, but this combination of a rails-with-trails project and a new trail along Highway 60 might be the best solution.