At the DeForest Village Board’s Nov. 16 meeting a group of local kids proposed the installation of a mountain bike path, and although trustees appreciated their involvement, the plan did not go over well with many residents.

During the meeting’s public appearances around a dozen residents came to speak out against a proposed two-mile mountain bike trail to be placed next to the Upper Yahara River Trail just south of Innovation Drive in Conservancy Place.

Recent residential and commercial development projects, even if otherwise popular, have been consistently met with fierce opposition with arguments that development would devalue current homes and betray the “conservancy” theme. Whereas the proposed Pinseekers golf complex and in-progress condo and apartment projects have been placed on retired farmland, the proposed mountain bike trail would be cut into the 11-acre woods adjacent to the Yahara River.

Many of the residents only learned of the proposed bike trail over the preceding weekend. However, as Village Administrator and Finance Director Steve Fahlgren explained, the board was only officially hearing the idea for the first time in this meeting.

Residents described the area, between housing developments and next to an existing paved trail, as a critical habitat for local wildlife, with those living there frequently seeing deer, foxes, turkey, and cranes.

Matt Cornwell explained that part of those woods are on a south-facing hill where deer are known to raise their fawns.

Another resident pointed out that the proposed trail had been planned based on a path that had already been cut into the woods by hikers and mountain bikers, which she interpreted as rewarding bad behavior.

From a strictly economic perspective, AnnMarie Preece said that she questioned what it would do to home prices, noting an estimated $80,000 premium placed on houses that are adjacent to the woods.

DeForest Village Director of Public Services and Deputy Administrator Judd Blau explained that the idea was proposed by a group of 7th and 8th grade kids in fall 2019. Blau explained that the kids enjoyed mountain biking and had a location where they had been riding, but it was private property and they were “chased off that property.”

The board, led by Blau as village president at the time, instructed staff to investigate options for developing bike trails for the kids, which due to a range of other village priorities, was delayed and sidetracked until it was brought back to the board in the recent meeting.

Staff reached out to Capital Off Road Pathfinders, or CORP, a Madison area mountain biking organization founded in 2019, to get guidance on what would be needed for development of a mountain bike trail.

“There is a start of a trail here because jumps have been put in over fallen trees,” said Blau. “So kids have clearly been up there doing things.”

Staff walked the unofficial trail, marking an outer loop and an inner loop, the outer loop being a less difficult path for mountain bikers, and the inner loop, more difficult. Flags were attached to trees to roughly mark the path, which was then mapped out.

Part of the input from CORP, Blau explained, was incorporation of a hairpin turn, which would force bikers to slow down as they approach an intersection of paths at the Upper Yahara Trail. The cost of trail development can cost up to $30,000 as Parks Supervisor and Public Services Project Coordinator Greg Hall explained in a report to the board. Although costs could be defrayed, he pointed out, through fundraising and work performed by volunteer groups.

Blau told the board that according to the plan, they were not intending on taking out a lot of trees, but would be focusing on fallen trees and invasive buckthorn and honeysuckle.

Although often devalued and looked at as an unnecessary safety hazard, naturalists have highlighted the importance of trees that are at the end of their life cycles, or completely fallen, as sources of habitat for wildlife.

Staff then turned the floor over to a group of young residents to recap the 2019 presentation, introducing themselves as Max Aker, Hadley Jones, Eli Engel, Gretchen Hayden, Molly Hayden.

In their presentation, the kids leaned heavily into the health benefits of mountain biking, explaining that it keeps kids away from digital devices and getting outdoor exercise. The track would also help grow the DeForest mountain biking team, according to one of the presenters.

When asked whether the path would be a location for regular team practice, coach Patrick Rogalla told the board that the team would continue to practice at a track at the 143-acre Sheehan Park in Sun Prairie.

In discussion among trustees there was not a great deal of support for creating the biking path in the woods, although some trustees, such as Jim Simpson, expressed interest in moving forward with the exploration of options. A number of questions posed to the kids and their coach surrounded the issue of whether other, less divisive, locations had been explored.

At the conclusion of the discussion, the board generally agreed to support the idea of a mountain biking path existing in DeForest, but looking for new locations that are less significant in terms of conservation and less concerning to local homeowners.

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