JUNEAU — If fans of the Gold Star Memorial Trail were expecting a walk in the park at Tuesday evening’s public involvement meeting, they were disappointed.
A group of property owners was vocally opposed to the concept shared in the Dodge County Administration Building’s first floor meeting rooms.
Approximately 75 people attended. Some were in favor. Some were not.
Bill Ehlenbeck, Dodge County Director of Land Resources and Parks, introduced the plan to extend the trail that currently runs from Mayville to the Horicon Marsh Education Center.
Tuesday’s meeting focused on a possible extension from Horicon to Beaver Dam.
“The first phase of the trail has been open for about a year and we’re ready to move on,” Ehlenbeck said. “The city of Horicon is allowing us to use the railroad route through the city. We’ll be working with Horicon Marsh to get that connection. Our main focus right now is making the connection between Horicon and Beaver Dam.”
Routes that may be considered to Beaver Dam include Highway 33, Prospect Road, the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad right-of-way, Highway E and Highway B. A combination of those routes could result, depending on the obstacles that must be overcome. Challenges include crossing private properties, road traffic, steep grades, poor drainage and wetland areas, road and driveway crossings and intersections and other barriers.
The connection is nine to 13 miles, depending on the route.
“Each has its pluses and minuses,” said engineer Mike Laue of MSA.
“We’re trying to get some feedback,” said Ehlenbeck. “If you’re interested in working with us to find a route, or have no interest in connecting to the trail, we need to know. This is really about listening to you.”
Laue clarified, “The trail is not going to be built tomorrow. We don’t have machines idling out there ready to go after this meeting. We’re looking for input from this group and other people as well. We’re looking at all options and opportunities at this time. Tonight is the first step in the process.”
Ehlenbeck said the it will be a a non-motorized trail for pedestrians, bicyclists, cross country skiers and showshoers promoting healthy lifestyles and recreational opportunities. He said it also will be a transportation corridor since people can use it to get to schools, businesses and other non-recreational sites.
The project was a public/private partnership begun by Gold Star Families to honor recently fallen soldiers. For the first part of the trail a total of $430,000 in private donations was contributed through the Friends of Dodge County Parks, with $310,000 gathered in state and federal grants. Upon completion it was presented to Dodge County, which will maintain it and hopes to expand it.
“The letter we got said something about taking 20 feet of my land,” said one audience member. “Would they like condemn it and just take it?”
Ehlenbeck said 20 feet is the suggested width of the trail, and there are no plans to “take” anything.
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“We may purchase land or obtain easements, but we will not condemn any property,” he said. “This is willing seller only. We’re just looking for what different options might be out there.”
About six property owners said they have circumstances which would prevent the trail from passing through their land.
Another indicated that going through wooded areas poses danger from hunters. Ehlenbeck stated that is a concern on most rural trails.
“The Wild Goose Trail is already underutilized, so I’m not really sure why you’re going at this,” said Jeff Behnke, who lives on Highway E. “You said this is a multi-use trail, but in a couple years will it be utilized as a four-wheeler or motorbike or snowmobile trail. We moved to the country because we want peace and quiet. We don’t want this type of activity in our neighborhood. I think you’re impeding on our privacy and that’s not a very nice thing to do.”
“It’s actually the opposite,” said Ehlenbeck. “We’re doing it for the public interest, and people who live along the first section of the trail are now its biggest users.”
“I saw a picture of a person in a wheelchair,” said a woman in the audience. “What’s the point of building this trail to connect Mayville and Beaver Dam. Are you going to go all the way from Mayville to Beaver Dam in a wheelchair? Why don’t we just make the Wild Goose Trail nicer?”
She said she has not seen more than one person using the Gold Star Memorial Trail, although Ehlenbeck answered that he has statistics to prove otherwise.
“We have data to show that both trails (Wild Goose and Gold Star) are highly utilized,” he said. “A lot of people feel the trail between Horicon and Beaver Dam is needed as well. I can tell you as a resident of Beaver Dam that Beaver Dam is disconnected from trail opportunities. That is something that the citizens of Beaver Dam and the surrounding area want. They want an off-road, safe, biking option.
“As for the wheelchair, we can’t dictate how far they’re going to go. The purpose of that is that the trails are built for everyone, regardless of disability.”
Speaking in favor of the trail was Gold Star mom Barb Gassen whose son, U.S. Army Pfc. Jacob Gassen, died in Afghanistan on Nov. 29, 2010.
“I live in Beaver Dam and while I realize most people will not go from Mayville to Beaver Dam, they might go from Beaver Dam to the Wild Goose Trail (between Juneau and Fond du Lac),” said Gassen. “Right now I have to go on relatively unsafe roads or I have to take my car over there. If I have this I can connect to that trail, and someone from Horicon might want to do the same thing. The opportunity is there for people to connect these communities. People might commute from Beaver Dam to Horicon if there was a safe way to do it.”
She continued, “One reason the Gold Star Memorial Trail may not be getting more use it that it is not connecting bigger communities.”
Maps of possible routes were on display for the public to peruse. Information sheets with room for comments were distributed to all who attended.
“The first phase of the trail has been open for about a year and we’re ready to move on. The city of Horicon is allowing us to use the railroad route through the city. We’ll be working with Horicon Marsh to get that connection. Our main focus right now is making the connection between Horicon and Beaver Dam.” <&textAlign: right>Bill Ehlenbeck, Dodge County Director of Land Resources and Parks