White River Recreational Trail extension planned

This is a section of the White River State Trail between Cunningham and Vandenboom roads in the Town of Dover. Racine County has proposed a $500,000 investment that would – when combined with a $1 million state grant – complete the purchase of 11 more miles of former railroad corridor to extend the trail east into Sturtevant. (Ed Nadolski photo)

Officials say project will be boon for entire area

A proposed $500,000 investment by Racine County would, if approved, provide the push needed to extend the White River Recreational Trail 11 miles to the east and further spur the development of a regional trail network dubbed the Route of the Badger, county officials announced Tuesday.

County Executive Jonathan Delagrave was joined by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and other local officials and advocates recently in Union Grove to highlight the proposed acquisition of an 11-mile former railroad corridor that stretches from the Town of Dover east through Union Grove, Yorkville, Mount Pleasant and into Sturtevant.

When developed as a trail – which would be an extension of the White River Trail that currently ends at Vandenboom Road in Dover – this corridor will provide additional access for walking, biking and other activities for area residents and yield millions in potential revenue and health care cost savings for the region, officials said.

Delagrave announced the $500,000 allocation in his budget address on Oct. 6. The earmark comes from money generated from land sales, not tax dollars, officials said. Pending approval by the Racine County Board, the funding would leverage $1 million previously designated in the state’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program and complete the land acquisition needed for the project.

“The Route of the Badger is more than a network of bicycle and pedestrian paths — it will be a major boost for economic development, health and wellness, tourism, and quality of life,” Delagrave said. “While there’s still work to be done and money to be secured, Racine County is committed to doing all we can to ensure this trail is completed.”

Good news for locals

Completion of the trail segment would be a major boost for Union Grove, which is at the heart of the extension. It would also benefit the City of Burlington, which recently decided to pursue a new branding effort that migrates away from Chocolate City to City of Trials.

Burlington is at the hub of three major trails – the White River Trail, the Fox River water trail and the Seven Waters Trail, which extends north along the Highway 35 corridor through Rochester, Waterford and the Town of Norway.

The acquisition of the 11-mile section of the Canadian Pacific Railway between Dover and Sturtevant, Mount Pleasant, Yorkville, Union Grove and Dover represents a significant step forward in the Route of the Badger trail network’s completion, county officials said. When complete, the corridor will nearly connect east to west across Racine County and provide 56 miles of uninterrupted trail within the Route of the Badger network.

While the $1.5 million total for the Racine County segment will cover acquisition costs, officials expect the trail to be developed relatively quickly.

According to officials, Racine County will take a leadership role in the development of the trail. Working with partners including the Village of Union Grove and others, the county will pursue state and federal grant funding opportunities.

Officials said the cost is not prohibitive.

“Compared to other trails, the construction of this trail is fairly straight-forward – it is relatively flat, there are no major long-distance bridges or tunnels, and it does not cross any major roadways at grade,” officials said in a document addressing frequently asked questions. “Based on the success of funding applications, development could begin fairly soon.”

Route of the Badger

Route of the Badger is southeastern Wisconsin’s 700-mile landmark regional trail network and a Rails-to-Trails Conservancy TrailNation project. The system currently includes approximately 350 miles of completed trails with another 250 earmarked for development.

The regional trail network will connect Racine and Milwaukee counties, as well as Kenosha, Walworth, Waukesha, Washington, and Ozaukee, unlocking new economic, health and recreation and tourism opportunities for the region, according to officials.

“It’s great to see the Rails to Trails project moving forward. I want to thank the Racine County Executive for also prioritizing the trail after we secured $1 million from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship funds,” Vos said. “This project has been a result of years of coordinated efforts at the local, county and state levels.

“So many Racine County residents will benefit from this multipurpose trail system that will attract tourists and economic development. With the increased need and interest in getting outdoors, this latest development comes at a perfect time.”

Economic benefits eyed

According to county officials, a recent study by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy found the net economic impact of trails and active transportation annually in Wisconsin is as much as $1.5 billion, including direct trail user spending of $686 million and health costs avoided of $833 million — economic benefits that increase exponentially as the connectivity between trails, people and places improves.

In addition, they said, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in significant increase in trail use across the state, with usage two to three times higher in March 2020 compared to March 2019. Nationwide, Rails-to-Trails reports that trail use has risen 60 percent on average this year compared to last year.

“The (Canadian Pacific) corridor has always been a critical piece of the Route of the Badger vision – this 11-mile segment has the potential to unlock hundreds of miles of connected trails across Southeast Wisconsin,” said Willie Karidis, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s project manager for the Route of the Badger.

“Once developed as a trail, this corridor has the potential to generate new revenue and new access to outdoor spaces in communities that otherwise have little; two outcomes that deliver outsized benefits as our communities continue to manage the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

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