This week the Park & Recreation Commission of the City of West Bend will hear a proposal from GEARS, our local mountain biking advocacy group, for future development of trails at Glacial Blue Hills Recreation Area, the 208-acre park property on the city’s northwest side. Glacial Blue Hills is already home to about 8.5 miles of mountain bike trails that over the last 20 years were built for free by volunteers with the approval of the city.
“Our goal is to expand and improve the trails here, which will enhance the park and have a positive economic impact in West Bend,” GEARS says in a prepared statement that will be presented on Thursday, 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.
Here are the key points of the GEARS proposal:
- New trails will be machine-built by a professional contractor, resulting in trails that are sustainable and easier for volunteers to maintain.
- New features will include a pump track and freeride elements like berms, jumps, drops, balancing platforms, and boardwalk where appropriate.
- The entire trail system will be signed and mapped, creating a safer user experience by directing riders to areas appropriate for their skill levels. Mapping and signage also will aid emergency responders in the event of a crash that results in injury.
- As a non-profit organization, GEARS—now part of Metro Mountain Bikers—will pay for the trail-building activities with a combination of grants and donations.
- GEARS will encourage the city to enhance the property with a paved parking lot, a source of potable water, and toilets. Those features are badly needed by all users, not just mountain bikers.
“With this development we should see more tourism in West Bend,” the GEARS statement says. “Mountain bikers travel to ride new trails and leave money behind at restaurants, (convenience) stores, hotels and small businesses.”
This is a solid plan with good people behind it, but of course there will be opposition. The Ice Age National Scenic Trail passes through Glacial Blue Hills and the local chapter of the Ice Age Trail Alliance is rallying its members to fight the plan on Thursday. Its call to action frames the situation as “Mountain Bikes vs. Ice Age Trail,” which is truly unfortunate. Hikers and mountain bikers have coexisted in Glacial Blue Hills for years. The past, present, and future can better be described as “Mountain Bikes and Ice Age Trail.” If approved, the GEARS proposal will reduce potential conflicts by keeping mountain bikers off the Ice Age Trail and on clearly-designated, bike-specific trails. This plan has my enthusiastic support. If it has yours, then join me this Thursday, 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.