New Trails In Expanding in Eastern Vilas County

For years I have been gushing about the incredible cycling around Boulder Junction and Manitowish Waters. Between the beautiful, winding Heart of Vila County Trail and the flowy purpose-built singletrack at the WinMan Trails, western Vilas County is a dream vacation for cycling. With the guest blog post below, I am happy to report eastern Vilas County is jumping on the band wagon. Thanks to Jeff Currie for sending the words and pictures as well as for all the advocacy he and the crew from the Great Headwaters Trails group have done to make Eastern Vilas County more bicycle friendly.

Moving toward a bike-friendly eastern Vilas County

by Jeff Currie, President  Great Headwaters Trails

Encouraging safe, enjoyable bike riding is a good idea anywhere. Doing that work in a uniquely beautiful place like the Eagle River area makes it all the more satisfying. And the progress made up here in 2015 makes it especially rewarding.

The highlight of the year for our nonprofit, Great Headwaters Trails, has been the building of a 3.2 mile bike-ped trail section in Conover, the start of a trail that will soon traverse all 11 miles to the neighboring town of Phelps.

Five years in the making, the project was almost derailed just a year ago when ATV advocates, including some county board supervisors, pushed hard to get the Town of Conover to abandon the bike trail altogether.

A woman walking on Muskrat Creek Bridge, one of the two bridges of the westernmost Conover-Phelps Trail section.

Now that the trail section and its two bridges are in place, it’s drawing rave reviews, even from critics of a year ago.

“The Conover-Phelps Trail…will have a positive economic effect on us by attracting both local residents and visitors to recreate in Conover, Phelps and ultimately all of Vilas County and the surrounding area,” said Ron De Bruyne, chairman of the Vilas County board of supervisors. “We need this and I applaud those people that are making it happen.” Ron has gone out of his way to watch the bike trail being built and to support its progress.

Many people, like the executive director of the Phelps Chamber of Commerce, Celeste Hendrickson, saw the bike trail’s value from the beginning. “It’s a big deal for Phelps,” she says, “because we’re working on revitalizing our downtown, and we recognize the attraction of the trail for bringing in new people and new businesses.”

With 3.2 miles in place, a May 29 ribbon-cutting is being planned by Conover businesses and the Chamber of Commerce. The noon to 3 p.m. event will highlight the promise of the bike-ped trail and economic revitalization developments in both Conover and Phelps. It will showcase all the recreational offerings, motorized and nonmotorized, that have developed in the area recently.

The Pioneer Creek bridge bridge along State Hwy 45 in downtown Conover makes quite a statement to passing motorists.

GHT’s work since its founding in 2010 has been to partner with municipalities to build trail connections in all of eastern VC as part of making the area more welcoming to bike riders.

In Eagle River, GHT has helped develop designated and signed bike routes, among the first of their kind in Vilas County.

Northwoods wetlands and forests line the route of the Conover-Phelps Trail. This photo was taken is along the trail only a few hundred yards off Hwy 45 in Conover.

Another first was last fall’s SepTimber Ride, a product of GHT’s partnership with the Eagle River Area Chamber of Commerce. Over 120 people rode 13 or 26 miles on the Three Eagle Trail between Eagle River and Three Lakes. Or, more specifically, between the Tribute Brewing Company taphouse in Eagle River and Three Lakes Winery. Everyone had a great time and the happy participants gathered at Tribute after the ride for brats, beer samples, door prizes and a raffle.

Not a first was the recent trip to Lambeau Field made by two GHT board members to receive a grant from the Green Bay Packers Foundation. It’s the third year in a row that the Packers Foundation has supported building the rest of the Conover-Phelps Trail. Other grant support for finishing the trail has come from We Energies and the DNR, $141,000 of Stewardship funds and $45,000 of RTA funds. Most important is the current show of support from individuals and businesses in Conover and Phelps and beyond.

What does 2016 hold for GHT? Whatever we can do to help lake-rich eastern Vilas County become ever more welcome to bike riders from near and far.

Top priority is to finish the Conover-Phelps Trail. Also to continue work to develop trail connections between places like Eagle River and St. Germain, the eastern terminus of the Heart of Vilas Trail. Another SepTimber Ride is in the works for Sept. 10 of 2016. And, with trail on the ground, GHT looks forward to collegial planning with other trail groups and municipal and county officials to develop recreational amenities that will have maximum value to the communities of eastern Vilas County. Part of that work will include updating the Countywide Bike-Ped Plan developed and approved in 2011.

Check out the “Yard and Mile” campaign progress to finish the Conover-Phelps Trail, and find out more about GHT and biking in Vilas County by going to our website: GHTrails.org. We appreciate folks who Like our Facebook page too!

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

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