Trail underpass

This underpass will connect the two trail segments.

A long-awaited bike trail that will connect the Village of Waunakee to Lake Mendota and Governor Nelson State Park is moving one step closer, after trail construction was delayed in part by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Dane County Board, at its meeting on Sept. 9, unanimously approved an agreement between the county government and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which will allow the county to construct a bike trail through the state park.

“While the village of Waunakee is just a few miles from Lake Mendota, because of heavy traffic on Highway M there hasn’t been a safe way for families to ride bikes from the village to the lake,” said county board member Tim Kiefer, who represents Waunakee and part of Westport. “This bike trail into the state park is the missing link in the bike to the lake connection.”

Construction of the bike trail had originally been scheduled to take place in 2020. The project was delayed when county staff and Wisconsin DNR staff were unable to conduct necessary on-site construction progress meetings due to pandemic in-person meeting restrictions.

Trail construction is now anticipated to start in the fall, and be completed by early summer in 2022.

“One thing we’ve learned from the pandemic is the importance of outdoor recreation,” Kiefer said. “The new bike trail will give families a way to get to Governor Nelson State Park from Waunakee without having to ride along the shoulder of Highway M, which has high speeds and high traffic, and is dangerous for bicyclists.”

The future trail segment is one part of the North Mendota Trail, which runs from Woodland Drive across a long wooden bridge paralleling Highway M, and then to the back side of Governor Nelson Park. Currently the trail ends at the state park boundary. The new trail segment will cross the park, giving bicyclists access to the state park and Lake Mendota.

After crossing the park, the new trail segment will then connect to an existing bicycle pedestrian underpass providing safe passage underneath County Highway M. The off-road, multi-use trail will eventually extend as far as Middleton.

County board member Dave Ripp, whose district includes rural areas near Waunakee and Middleton, said, “With Middleton building segments of the trail in Middleton, a few years from now Waunakee will be trail-connected to downtown Middleton and Pheasant Branch Conservancy.”

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