Trail extension

The Strand Associates study would determine the costs, routes and permitting needed for a trail extension between the Castle Creek Conservancy at Division Street and Knightsbridge Road to Mill Road in the Town of Westport.

The Waunakee Village Board unanimously voted to approve an engineering study to determine the costs and the challenges of a trail extension from Castle Creek Conservancy and Mill Road at their Jan. 19 meeting.

The village’s parks-and-recreation committee recommended the study at their meeting two weeks prior.

The study would determine the size of the path and easements needed, along with a cost estimate.

As Kevin Even, Waunakee public works director, explained, while the trail extension has been in the Waunakee-Westport parks and recreation plan adopted in 2017, village and town officials started down a path to completing it only after a receiving a complaint from a village resident.

That resident reported a fence partly on village-owned property near Mill Road. Even said village board members directed staff to work with the neighboring property owner. Initially, village officials felt the structure should be removed but then wondered if another alternative might be to receive an easement from Fritz Durst, the landowner, for the trail extension.

Even said the initial design shows a 30-foot path. Two bridges over Six Mile Creek are necessary and potentially boardwalks over wetlands.

Even and Strand Associates engineer Kent Straus worked on the team that had installed the Hwy. M extension as part of the North Mendota Trail system. In a process similar to the Westport trail extension, his recommendation was to contract with Strand to help the village identify a route, the necessary easements and topography.

The Department of Natural Resources had provided grant funding when the village acquired the land near Mill Road, and that agency has a process for any land swaps or easements to ensure the exchange is fair to the taxpayers.

“It will take additional engineering to get a safe and ADA compliant path,” Even said.

Village board members who serve on the parks committee supported the idea.

“If we can make this happen, it will be a true nature walk,” said Phil Willems, who added that bird watchers and other wildlife enthusiasts would look at the trail connection favorably.

Trustee Gary Herzberg said he and his wife spend time bicycling and have been impressed with how DeForest’s trail system connects neighborhoods and neighbors.

“The Castle Creek Conservancy is probably one of the most underutilized parks and it’s a beautiful place,” said Herzberg, another parks committee member.

Another committee member, Village President Chris Zellner, agreed, but noted the cost could be high.

“Does it have its challenges? Absolutely. But a lot of great things have challenges, too, just to get there,” Zellner said.

Other board members had questions. Trustee Nila Frye asked if another connection could be explored. She also questioned the loss of village land as part of the exchange and asked if appraisals had been done.

On-street connections connect the two areas, but this extension would be off-road and unique, Even said. The DNR does require appraisals to ensure the exchange is fair and equitable, but the first step would be to determine the project’s feasibility, he said.

Frye then asked if appraisals should be done prior to the engineering study, noting that the landowner may be unwilling to cooperate.

“We don’t know what we need,” Even said, referring to the size of the paths and easements. He added the process was the same for the North Mendota Trail extension at Hwy. M.

Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District has a sanitary sewer within the trail area and has a desire to gain better access to it, Even added. That agency could provide some funding to maintain access, he said.

Zellner said the landowner has expressed a willingness to participate in the project.

“We have an opportunity now because of the landowner,” Zellner said.

Trustee Bill Ranum said the engineering process and appraisals could take time to complete and asked how staff will proceed with the encroachment on village property.

“I don’t think you have to do anything with it if you are in a position to work with the landowner,” said Bryan Kleinmaier, village attorney. Kleinmaier added that he didn’t believe the situation posed liability issues.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the village:

-approved a $2,000 bonus for Waunakee Public Library circulation manager Emily Harkins, as recommended by the Library Board. Library director Erick Plumb noted that during the ever changing public health orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, Harkins kept the operation going and as open as possible.

“Each of these changes necessitated brand new work flows that needed to be changed on the fly,” Plumb said.

The bonus will come from the library’s special fund and will have no impact on the budget.

-heard an update on the village’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives. The village, school district and Waunakee Neighborhood Connection will send invitations to organizations and village team members to the community learning project.

-approved a COVID Emergency Sick Leave policy for village staff.

-approved the WPPA union contract for the police department.

-met in closed session to negotiate a TIF assistance request with Octopi Brewing.

The village’s attorney said two agreements are being worked on, one for the warehouse expansion and another for the brewhouse addition. Kleinmaier said one point of the negation seeks to shorten the life of the new TID. Another is a protection agreement to avoid a situation where the business is sold after the TID is awarded.

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