Oct. 14—A proposed pedestrian bridge announced in Sauk City Wednesday could one day connect bike trails on either side of the Wisconsin River with a new route, allowing users to pedal from the Madison area to Devil's Lake State Park and beyond on dedicated non-motorized trails.
Although still only in the planning phase, the $4 million pledged by officials from Dane and Sauk counties should help leverage the federal money needed to make the proposed "recreational, scenic gateway" a reality.
County Executive Joe Parisi, who has included $2 million for Dane County's portion of the cost in his 2022 budget, said trails benefit the environment, public health and local economies.
The money will pay for design and engineering of a bridge to replace a century-old rail bridge that was mostly demolished after a pier failed during flooding in 2018. Parisi said he hopes those plans will help attract federal funding for construction of the bridge, which is expected to cost about $8 million.
The bridge would connect to the Great Sauk State Trail, a 13-mile recreational trail between Sauk City and the Sauk Prairie State Recreation Area, to two new trail segments under development on the Dane County side of the river: a 7-mile path along the river to Mazomanie known as the Walking Iron Trail and a connector to the popular Highway 12 trail.
A proposed extension to the north would connect to the 400 Trail, which leads to the Elroy-Sparta State Trail, the nation's first rails-to-trails project.
"Someday you'll be able to hop on a bike in Middleton and ride all the way to the Mississippi River," said Marty Krueger, chair of the Great Sauk Trail Commission.
A study done earlier this year by UW-Extension researchers found the proposed "Gateway to the Driftless Trail System" could attract hundreds of thousands of cyclists and snowmobilers from across the region, generating more than $6 million a year in direct economic impact.
Krueger said it will also help rural communities along the route attract and retain skilled workers.
"This addresses quality of life," Krueger said. "I think this pandemic has taught us a number of lessons, and one of them is that quality of life matters to people."
Parisi said it was important for Dane County to partner with a neighboring county.
"We're literally and figuratively building bridges," Parisi said.
By connecting the two trails, the project promises to open new opportunities for cyclists using those trails now, much as the Lower Yahara River Trail connected McDaniel Park in McFarland to Lake Farm Park and the Capital City Trail in Madison in 2017.
That project, which also cost about $8 million and was built with local and federal dollars, includes Wisconsin's longest bicycle bridge, a 1-mile segment made up of floating boardwalks with views of Upper Mud Lake, Lake Waubesa and surrounding wetlands.
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