Trail plans begins to take shape
NEW RICHMOND -- As work continues with the new St. Croix River Crossing, progress is also being made on a new pedestrian and bike trail.
The 4.5 mile loop, which will utilize the Stillwater Lift Bridge and cross between Wisonsin and Minnesota, is expected to be completed by 2017, said Dave Solberg, project manager.
Construction of the trail's foundation will take place as the new bridge is completed. In 2017, after the final leg of the trail is completed, the entire trail will be paved and opened to pedestrian and bike traffic.
When trails are built, Solberg said there is usually a financial agreement between the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the municipality in which the trail is being built. He said WisDOT will usually help fund the project but the municipality and county are then responsible for the maintenance and ownership of the trail.
It's a bit of a different story with the loop trail because it's a mitigation project through the bridge project and crosses state lines.
"It was never identified who would own and maintain it," he said.
Currently WisDOT and Solberg are discussing options with the Department of Natural Resources, St. Croix County Parks Department and Highway Department and St. Joseph Township, he said.
"We're just trying to see who would be interested in the trail," he said.
Solberg said there are benefits to taking ownership of the trail, including any park development along the trail, picking design features such as landscaping, trail width and the types of benches used, etc.
Right now, Solberg said the meetings have been informative. St. Croix County's Community Development Committee has invited Solberg back for a second discussion, he said.
Stillwater has agreed to take ownership of Minnesota's portion of the trail, he said.
In 1996, St. Joseph Township verbally agreed to take ownership of the Wisconsin trail; however, the new town board is leery.
"They're afraid of the cost," he said. "Not necessarily the cost now, it's the cost 20 to 30 years from now when it needs to be resurfaced."
Solberg said to help alleviate some of that concern, he's looking for ways that WisDOT might be able to help.
"We're looking for things the department can to do help St. Croix County or St. Joe Township," he said.
One of those ideas is to repave the trail at the same time the road is repaved, cutting costs significantly.
"We're looking for things within our policies that could work," he said.
In addition to finding a group to take ownership of the trail, Solberg said WisDOT is also working with Houlton Elementary to find ways that the trail can be used as an educational tool with the school's outdoor learning space.
Options for park-and-ride parking lots are also being explored.
"We've been so focused on the bridge that we're just now getting to these secondary things," he said.
The St. Croix River Crossing Loop Trail will include six segments:
-- The first segment will travel long Minnesota Highway 95 from the proposed Highway 36/Highway 95 interchange to downtown Stillwater.
As the trail travels along the river, it will split into two portions. The bicycle trail will travel along the abandoned railroad grade, above the Hersey and Bean archaeological site -- the ruins of the old sawmill. The pedestrian route follows the river below the ruins. The Moritz Bergstein Shoddy Mill and Warehouse, which will be restored and converted into a museum, was recently relocated from its original location to make room for the new Highway 95/35 interchange. It will also be included along the trail. The two portions will join again just south of downtown Stillwater and proceed to Chestnut Street and to the west end of the Stillwater Lift Bridge.
-- The second segment crosses the existing Stillwater Lift Bridge from Minnesota into Wisconsin. The lift bridge will be restored and accessibility and safety features will be added to the bridge.
-- The third segment travels up the Houlton hill on the former Wisconsin Highway 64 right-of-way. The trail will separate again as it travels up the Houlton hill to the top of the bluffs. Resting areas and viewing platforms will be placed along the hill, featuring the scenic views of the area that was once a busy roadway.
-- The fourth segment begins at the top of the hill, where the trail will turn south onto former Wisconsin Highway 35 and then east onto County Road E. The trail will travel along County Highway E, past Houlton Elementary School. An underpass will be constructed to join the trail with the new Highway 64.
-- The fifth segment continues along Highway 64, from County Road E to the new river crossing. The path will be lined by trees and shrubs that mimic the hedge rows that border farm fields.
-- The final segment of the trail begins at the north side of the new bridge, going from the Wisconsin shore to join with the first segment of the loop trail at Minnesota Highway 95.
As the trail crosses the river, viewing platforms will be provided at various bridge piers to allow travelers to view the St. Croix River Valley.
Continuing across the bridge, pedestrians and bicyclists will return to the Highway 36/95 interchange area.
To view an animation of the trail, visit www.newrichmond-news.com.