The Village of Waunakee could one day see a trail connection along Six Mile Creek between Castle Creek Conservancy and Mill Road, but the project could be costly and require extensive permitting.
At the Waunakee’s Parks and Recreation Committee meeting Jan. 6, members voted unanimously to recommend village board approval for an engineering study to determine the project’s feasibility.
The trail system is included in the Waunakee-Westport Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, adopted in 2005, said Kevin Even, village engineer, as he introduced the agenda item.
The village owns approximately seven acres bordering a residential property where the path could be extended. The trail extension was considered after village officials received a complaint that the Mill Road resident, Fritz Durst, had erected a fence partially on village land and was using the land for his own benefit, Even said.
“Our first thought was have him remove it, but then we thought, is there something mutually agreeable that would benefit both properties?” Even said. “Is there a solution here that would help all of us?”
Village and Town of Westport staff then began exploring the idea of a property exchange with Durst to extend the Castle Creek trail.
Staff researched the village-owned land and found it was acquired partially with Department of Natural Resources grant funding.
“So it’s not super straightforward. We can’t just cut a deal between the village and [Durst]. We actually have to have the DNR involved as part of the process,” Even said.
Even and Westport Administrator Tom Wilson had worked with a DNR staff member on the new trail along Hwy. M who told them such an exchange is feasible.
“But you really have to demonstrate that the village, the tax dollars that are spent, you’re getting something back in exchange that is the same value… so that you’re not giving up public dollars for private benefit,” Even said.
Property appraisals would ensure the exchange is fair, Even said, and he has received a proposal for this work.
But prior to the appraisal, preliminary engineering would provide a clearer picture of the trail route, the land required and the project costs. Bridges would be needed, and wetlands are present, necessitating boardwalks, similar to those along the new Hwy. M trail at Woodland Drive. With that information, Waunakee and Westport officials could decide whether or not to pursue the project.
The trail could provide a pedestrian connection between Knightsbridge Road and Division Street to Mill Road, then to paths extending to the North Mendota Trail system.
“This would a fantastic trail. There would be nothing else like it in the village in terms of scenery,” Even said, adding it would be a “gem” in the village’s trail system.
Committee members asked about the cost, boardwalk maintenance, the access points and parking. The preliminary engineering study could provide answers, staff said.
As part of a $38,000 agreement with Strand Associates, the engineering firm would do modeling of the creek to ensure that a trail would not raise backwater levels, said Kent Straus, senior associate with Strand. Straus noted that wetlands, particularly at the north end of the trail, would provide challenges, requiring more costly boardwalks.
Also, the sharp embankment at Mill Road would limit access points to the trail.
With a preliminary design, similar to the process of developing the Hwy. M path, some of these issues could be explored.
The Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District has infrastructure along the property, and the electrical utility company ATC has an easement, along with the railroad.
Strand would also research any documented historical sites to arrive at a preliminary design and work with the DNR to determine required permits for bridges and floodplains.
Grants could be available for the project, Even said, noting DNR funding helped make the Hwy. M trail possible.
Waunakee’s Community Services Director Sue McDade noted that in surveys of residents, more trails were the No. 1 desire.
As committee members discussed the project, one member, village President Chris Zellner, said after the trail west of the Waunakee Public Library was completed, it became heavily used.
“This would just mean so much more than that to our community. Yeah there’s costs to this. If you’re going to do trails, just like you do a road, there’s going to be costs, just like a road. We just want to do it as efficiently and effectively as we can,” Zellner said.
Committee member Bob Khouri suggested the Town of Westport could be asked to cost share in the $38,000 engineering study, saying the town’s involvement and engagement is important.
The connectivity of the trail is important for the village, committee member Gary Herzberg added. Herzberg noted that the DeForest trail system connects neighborhoods. The Mill Road to Castle Creek trail could connect Savannah Village kids to schools, he said.
“To me, this is a no-brainer. There’ll be grant money available. We need to get the studies done to see if it’s feasible. But it would bring connectivity to the rest of the trails in Waunakee and bring neighborhoods together,” Herzberg said.
The proposal for the preliminary engineering study will likely come to the village board for consideration at its Jan. 19 meeting. Village board meetings are normally held on Mondays, but the Jan. 18 meeting has been rescheduled to Tuesday in observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.