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by Justin Engebregtsen

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Ozaukee Interurban Trail Advisory Council    
   
Trail Enhancement Project

Trailblazers Needed

Trail Enhancement Project

OZAUKEE PRESS

OPINION

Thursday, August 5, 2004,

Trailblazers needed

Ozaukee bike trail improvement project is worthy of public and private support, especially from an image-conscious utility. Bicyclists and pedestrians are out in force this summer, but no longer are they relegated to sharing the pavement with fast-moving cars and trucks.

Scores of them - young and old, locals and tourists alike - are using the Ozaukee Interurban Bike Trail, a beautiful 30-mile stretch of pavement that, with a few notable exceptions, keeps its users out of the path of motor vehicle traffic.

The trail runs the length of Ozaukee County from Belgium to Mequon, taking riders and walkers through secluded rural areas where birds flit among wildflowers and into the downtowns of communities like Port Washington, Grafton and Cedarburg, where Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee River offer scenic distractions.

For all its merits, however, the trail is imperfect. At roughly its midpoint between Port Washington and Grafton, it leads users on a perilous detour from the off-road interurban railway line right of way along busy county roads and highways. Particularly dangerous is one stretch that forces riders to cross Highway W, then ride along this speedway populated by numerous semis.

To their credit, county officials and citizen members of the Interurban Trail Advisory Council have recognized this danger and secured a $1 million grant to reroute the trail and build a bridge over I-43 that will keep trail users off road.

But there's a catch - a $250,000 local contribution is required and a County Board that was instrumental in coordinating the bike trail project has been less than supportive of the improvement project. Although the local share could be as low as $125,000 if another promising grant can be secured, some supervisors have said the county won't kick in a dime.

The county should continue to invest in a trail that offers recreation, exercise and pollution-free transportation opportunities, not to mention an attraction that brings tourists and their money to the county, but it is unlikely the mood of the board will change.

Recognizing this, the trail advisory group has launched a campaign to raise the funds from private sources. The trail project is a worthy cause, for some more than others.

The bike trail runs primarily along interurban railway line owned by We Energies. The improvement project would incorporate even more of the off-road right of way into the trail.

A contribution from We Energies would be a logical investment in a project that will help reclaim this historical railway line that serves as a reminder of the utility's longtime presence in Ozaukee County.

Coincidentally, though nonetheless ironic, the bike trail fund-raiser has gotten under way at the same time We Energies is blazing a trail of its own with backhoes, bulldozers and drilling equipment to lay a high-pressure natural gas line through the heart of the county. The pipeline is needed to fuel the new Port Washington power plant, but unlike the bike trail, it has created fear and anger, particularly from residents whose land has been used for the project.

The bike trail improvement offers We Energies a unique opportunity to contribute to a project that

improves the quality of life for county residents rather than disrupts it and boosts property values instead of diminishes them. What's more, a utility that preaches conservation should be happy to contribute to a trail on which only calories are burned.

The County Board has dropped the ball by not embracing the bike trail improvement, but it's not too late for its members to help. The board should vote to accept the $1 million grant and, barring a justified contribution from the county coffers, offer financing assistance if private donations can't be raised by the grant deadline.

Not that it should take potential donors like We Energies much time to see the merit in a trail that, in addition to enhancing its own image in a county it has relied on for more than 70 years, truly benefits Ozaukee residents.