Wisconsin is losing the trails race. Wisconsin had been the national leader in trails since we built the Elroy Sparta Trail, the nation’s first rail trail. We continued to hold our early lead by continuing to building more miles of trails than any other state. Our next door neighbors in Michigan and Minnesota were quick to follow and hence were right on our wheel, but Wisconsin was winning the race for trails.
Michigan and Minnesota passed us by around 2008, and we have been slowly falling further off the front every year. Pennsylvania is also ahead of us with 1,918 miles of trails and they also outspend us at $14,420, 857. The reason is that Wisconsin now diverts about half of the federal funds we get for trails to highways and Michigan and Minnesota spend all theirs on trails. Michigan has managed to go even further, by leveraging those federal funds with millions of dollars in private investment in trails.
Michigan’s Iron Belle Trail bolstered by more than $10.5 million in private funding
Campaign forms to raise additional $155 million to complete the iconic trail
Tuesday, April 17, 2018
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Gov. Rick Snyder today announced private donations totaling $10.5 million to help build the Iron Belle Trail, a major development for Michigan’s 2,000-mile hiking and bicycling “showcase” trail that traverses the state.
“Our natural resources and outdoor recreation opportunities in Michigan are second to none, and an important and defining part of who we are as a state,” Snyder said. “These generous contributions toward completion of the Iron Belle Trail help solidify Michigan’s reputation as ‘The Trails State’. I sincerely thank all of the sponsors for their vision and support of the Iron Belle Trail.”
While we are off the front, we are not out of the race. If we want to at least hold our own, Wisconsin needs to stop raiding our federal trails funding for highways. Michigan and Minnesota seem to be able to afford to save their federal funds for trails, have lower state gas taxes and their roads and highways are in better condition. In a recent report by US News & World Report, Minnesota’s road quality ranked 7th best in the country, Michigan 9th, and Wisconsin 44th.
And while the amount of money diverted from trails in little more than a rounding error compared to the overall highway budget, it could do a tremendous amount for trails. Trails are a cheap date compared to freeway megaprojects and even rural highways.
No matter how the election turns out this November, Wisconsin needs to finally address our transportation problems and that should start with the next biennial budget and the 2019 legislative session in January. It is important that advocates for trails are part of that conversation. To build support for trails, the Wisconsin Bike Fed is partnering with Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, other trails organizations, community development organizations and state legislators to form a Wisconsin Legislative Trails Caucus, modeled after the Ohio Legislative Trails Caucus.
You are invited to join us on Wednesday, October 10th, 6-7:30pm at Velobahn Coffee & Cycle and the Bike Fed Offices (Pedal Milwaukee Building, 3618 West Pierce Street, Milwaukee – in Silver City right off of the Hank Aaron Trail) to learn more about regional trail network initiatives such as the Route of the Badger – a program to build a 500 mile interconnected trail network across the seven southeast counties in Wisconsin (Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Walworth, Washington and Waukesha).
State elected officials are critical to securing the substantial benefits brought by trail networks, and your support of these initiatives will not only attract businesses, jobs and talent but will also improve Wisconsin’s competitiveness. Several Midwestern states – including Ohio (with its Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition initiative to create a 1500+-mile trail network), Michigan (check out https://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-350-79133_79206_87346—,00.html), Indiana (currently establishing a legislative trails caucus) and Minnesota (working to fund its Active Transportation Program) – have established or are currently working to create state legislative trails caucuses, recognizing that trail systems revitalize rural, suburban and urban communities.
This networking event will include a brief presentation at 7 pm about the opportunities that we have in Wisconsin to support the recreational and transportation needs of our constituents as well as the strategies that other states are using to develop critical infrastructure for walking, biking and trails. Food will be provided by BelAir Cantina beer and coffee drinks, tea, soda and beer from Velobahn will be a part of this exciting event.
Please contact Willie Karidis via email@example.com or (414) 688-4327 to RSVP and for any questions.
Looking forward to seeing you on October 10th!