Splash: Green Lake Greenways’ bike path hits a bump in the road

A PROPOSED THREE-MILE stretch of trail would begin at the intersection of highways 23 and 49 and connect to Ripon’s Northwestern Trail at County Road PP. Above, it would run parallel but separate from Highway 23. Tim Lyke photo

by Hannah Tetzlaff

After at least 10 years working to create a bike path connecting Green Lake, Ripon and Berlin, it seemed as though the end was in sight.

Families could bike safely along the trail, maybe eating fish in Green Lake and then Culver’s frozen custard in Ripon.

Green Lake Greenways, a local group of trail enthusiasts spearheading the effort, had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, received approval from the Green Lake County to support and maintain a portion of the trail; and received the necessary easement rights from property owners on whose land the trail would cross.

All that needed to be done last summer was to wait for the results of a $290,000 DNR grant the group applied for, seek another $200,000 to cover a 3-mile section of the trail and then put the trail project out for bids by October.

Soon construction would begin and then the trail would eventually be complete, enabling families to bike safely along the trail, riding as many as 36 miles round-trip from Green Lake to Ripon to Berlin.

However, that didn’t happen.

According to Ken Bates, who is involved with Green Lake Greenways, the group did not receive the grant it applied for to finish the middle-portion of the trail.

“But we got money for the end,” Bates said. “We’ve just been having all kinds of hang ups.”

Along with the grant, the group also suffered a heavy loss when founder and president of Green Lake Greenways, Lauree Renaud, unexpectedly passed away last July.

“We lost Lauree, and she was a dynamic person as far as keeping this going, and she took it upon herself as a full-time job,” said Jerry Specht of Green Lake Greenways. “Now you’ve got volunteers doing it; it just takes time.”

Though Renaud’s passing was a serious setback to the group, Green Lake Greenways still believed it had accomplished everything it needed to complete phase one: construction and realization of the ends of the trail.

DOT hang ups

It wasn’t until later, the group found out the Department of Transportation did not give the “OK” yet for bike path project.

“We were ready to go off for bids. We thought everything was ready to go; we needed one or two easements. And all of a sudden we get the word ‘No, we don’t have the approval of the Department of Transportation yet,’” Specht said. “And that was kind of a surprise to us. But we keep pulling away and we’re working right now on phase one … [which] we call the bookends.”

Phase one focuses on the ends of the trail — from Ripon west of the Northwestern Trail’s terminus at County Road P and the other near Crossroads Market where bicyclists would cross Highway 23 onto Commerical Avenue. The goal is to construct and complete them since the group has the money to pay for that. After that, is phase two, which would focus on the middle section of the trail.

“It still is in the hands of the Department of Transportation (DOT) for the state of Wisconsin … and it has the authority because we’re running in the easement of the road — the right-of-way of the road, I should say,” Specht said. “So we have to meet a lot of their criteria. We thought we had met everything already, except for a few little things, but they had not signed off on it yet. And in turn, we have other things — we have small things — we have to do to get their satisfaction.”

Part of that new list of objectives is meeting with an engineer to discuss where the trail will end, where will it run, which side of the ditch and other concerns.

Another new item on the list of things to do is meet with property owners to gain their permission to have a little bit of dirt on their property during construction.

“Some of these areas, even though it’s [the bike path is] not going on their property, we may have to have a little bit of fill dirt on their property,” Specht said. “Not a lot; this isn’t like when the road is built … So we have six or seven of those where we have to contact the individuals to get that clearance [for construction permits].”

To help get the DOT to approve the bike path, the board members of Green Lake Greenways are going to contact their state representatives, such as state Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, state Rep. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan, and others.

“We’re going to … make sure they’re on board with this and push the DOT a little bit,” Specht said. “It’s the DOT that’s holding it up and has found more … small hoops to jump through.”

It will get done

Though the DOT pushed the group’s plans back by at least several months, Specht was hopeful they could begin construction of the two bookends by winter.

But that may not happen.

“Everyone’s so busy; there’s so much construction going on,” he said. “General consensus is if you can line yourself up for spring work, you actually might have it cheaper when people are looking for work in the spring. So I would say it’s going to be spring before we do the bookends. And I would hope that maybe fall before we do the center section [or] ‘phase two,’ we call that.”

He noted the group of bicycling enthusiasts “still can’t go out for bids; we just don’t have the readiness yo do that, but it’ll get there …We’ll get it done. It’s going to take a little time, but we’re going to get it done. I guarantee you. People want to see it. We will get it done [and] we miss Lauree at the helm.”

Once completed, Specht believes the bike path will be a benefit to the community.

“I see it being a beautiful thing that you have families biking along there it’s level [and] they’re safe,” he said. “There’s no other place you can take families and bike around here very well on blacktop … But this is going to work good that you go between Green Lake and Ripon … I think it’s going to be an inspiration for many people. You can run along there and you’re safe because people can see you versus having a trail going through the woods or out of view have anybody where you might have problems. This is all going to be within visibility of Highway 23, which helps promote it and also keeps it safe.”

Hannah Tetzlaff can be reached by emailing hannahtetz@riponprinters.com or by calling the Ripon Commonwealth Press office at 748-3017.