Almost exactly a year since the Hank Aaron State Trail was extended and paved from Miller Park out to 94th Place, the extension has been extended the remaining 30 blocks of the abandoned railroad corridor purchased by the WDNR years ago. While the project is not 100% finished, this final extension of the Hank Aaron State trail fills in southeastern Wisconsin’s last big gap in the state trail network from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi.
With daylight savings time over, I just managed to ride the full length of the new trail extension and take some photos before the sunset yesterday after work. The new segment starts at S 94th Place on the border of Milwaukee and West Allis where the trail was extended last November.
You can now ride on the Hank Aaron all the way out to meet the Oak Leaf Trail at Bluemound Rd and Underwood Parkway. This surface for this 2.5 mile section is compacted crushed limestone. As you can see in the photo above, there is some construction, but you can ride around it until it is done later next week. I rode the trail with 23mm wide tires and a fixed gear bike and I did not have any trouble.
The trail was not paved with asphalt because it passes under five bridges that are part of the Zoo Interchange. All the bridges will have to come down when the Interchange is reconstructed sometime around 2018 and the WisDOT did not want to put down asphalt that they will have to rip up again in 6 years. I find it odd that we are pinching pennies on a $2 billion interchange project that will probably have more temporary asphalt than the entire Hank Aaron State Trail from end to end.
As I mentioned above, I rode a bike with pretty skinny tires and I did not have any trouble. While the crushed limestone surface is a fine temporary trail surface for most bicycles, it does not work well if you want to push a stroller or skate. I saw a kid pushing a scooter and running along side a friend on a bike because his wheels did not roll on the gravel. Personally I am sort of partial to gravel trails and organized gravel road rides are growing in popularity, but there remains a significant percentage of people who won’t ride their bicycles on limestone trails. Some don’t what their paint chipped and getting their bicycle and drivetrain all full or the limestone fines. Still other people want the smooth ride of asphalt and skip gravel trails, but let’s get back to the positives.
One of the things I was pleased to see were the connections from the trail to nearby businesses. The trail still needs a few more connections into the neighborhoods that it goes past and even to some major roads, but a number of those are at different grades.
Now that this trail extension is in, you can ride your bike 170 miles from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River almost entirely on trails. If you zoom in on the set end of the Google map of the route, you can see there are still a few long gaps on west end of the trail network. That is how building a trail network works, you take advantage of all the opportunities to put in a trail when they present themselves, usually as rail corridors are abandoned. Then you work like the devil to fill in the gaps any way you can.
You will also notice the trail network not only leads to the Mighty Muddy, but to the town of Potosi, which is the home of the super cool Potosi Brewing Company, not a bad place to have at the end of a long bike ride. Who wants to plan a trip next spring?