The members of the Milwaukee County Trails Council met last week Thursday, April 28th. The Trails Council was formed at the behest of Sue Black, Director of Milwaukee County Dept. of Parks, Recreation and Culture, to discuss the maintenance and development of Milwaukee County trails. The members consist of citizen volunteers and staff from various agencies that have interests in natural areas and trails, such as the Milwaukee Metro Mountain Bikers, the Milwaukee River Greenway Coalition, the Rolling Dice Snowmobile Association, the National Park Service, County Supervisor Borkowski and yours truly.
Due to the Milwaukee County Parks budget and staff cuts over the years, the Council has met somewhat infrequently until recently, but the recent meetings have been quite productive despite how far the Parks staff has been stretched. The meetings are run by Ramsey Radakovich, the newish Deputy Regional Manager for the Parks Dept., last 2-3 hours and have a wide-ranging agenda. During our last meeting, Ramsey gave an update on the status of the Oak Leaf Trail extension from Estabrook Park to the Village of Brown Deer Trail/Ozaukee Interurban Trail.
The project map to the left is a bit out of date but usefule as it breaks up the trail into phases. I have some more accurate information.
The section listed as “Phase 1” from Brown Deer Park to AC Hanson Park is already out to bid and the Parks Dept. hopes to have that constructed later this summer.
Phase 2 – This is a short segment to be done by the City of Glendale. They have had a few issues to resolve regarding ROW acquisition, but that project should move forward later in 2011 as well.
Phase 3 – The design is done for this section within the We Energies powerline corridor from Mill Road to Bradley Road, and construction is proposed for 2012.
Phase 4 - From a Milwaukee perspective, this is the most important section and unfortunately the most complicated. The Parks Dept. has been trying to get their hands on this land for many years without success. Anyone who has ridden the Oak Leaf to the point where it dead ends along Wilson, knows there has not been a train on those tracks for decades. Unfortunately, it was only recently that the railroad filed to formally abandon the tracks, and until that abandonment procedure was filed and approved in Washington, it didn’t matter if there were 6 inch-caliper trees growing between the tracks, it was listed as an active rail line and nothing could be done to acquire the land or put a trail on it.
Once the tracks were formally abandoned, the County could focus on the acquisition of the corridor and write for a grants to purchase the land and build the trail. Last August the Wisconsin DOT notified the Parks Dept. that a CMAQ grant proposal the County had written for the acquisition had been approved. While this was great news, for a number of reasons, including all the ARRA projects that had to be processed short deadlines, the project agreements, did not come until about a week ago. Municipalities are not permitted to begin any work on grant funded projects until they have project agreements.
Now with that document in hand, the Parks Dept. is able to enter negotiations to purchase the old Chicago Pacific railroad corridor. Real estate negotiations involving the use of federal funds are complicated, as are any negotiations with railroad companies, so it’s reasonable to assume that acquisition of the corridor will take a while. Once completed, the Parks Dept. can begin to design and construct the trail using a different Transportation Enhancement grant.
While there is no official timeline for Phase 4, based on my experience working at the speed of government, I would guess this last and important phase of the Oak Leaf Trail connection to the Ozaukee Interurban Trail will not be done before 2013. Given the importance of the connection, it will be worth the wait, and the good people at the Parks Dept. deserve a pat on the back for their perseverance of the last 10 or 11 years of attempting to move the project forward.