Will County Simplify Trail Permit Requirements?
The Bike Federation requests a simpler permit process for Oak Leaf and other trails, and county staff seem open to suggestions.
Wednesday morning Marty Weigel and I had a positive meeting with senior staff from the Milwaukee County Parks Department in which we shared Bike Fed members’ serious concerns about the county’s new 10-page permit application and million dollar insurance requirement that must be filled out 90 days in advance of anyone using social media, like Facebook, to publicize a ride or event on the Oak Leaf Trail or in any Milwaukee County Park. Marty is a Bike Fed member, a member of Metro Mountain Bikers, a West Allis Alderman and a longstanding member of the Milwaukee County Trails Council.
The staff from Milwaukee County Parks listened to our concerns, took notes and let us know they are working on simplifying the application process. The biggest news was a very simple one, a one-page draft “User Form” that they suggested could be used instead of a permit for smaller events and rides. The proposed form asked for the organizer’s contact information, a brief description of the event, and included a checklist of questions asking if the event will charge a fee, sell things on county property, close any area or require any special services of county employees. It seemed reasonable to me that if an event organizer needed to check yes to any of the questions, they should fill out an application for a permit.
The only question on the checklist I didn’t like was “Is your event publicized (this includes Facebook and other social media)?” I told suggested that was an infringement on the freedom of speech and right to assemble. The staff took that seriously and said they would run my concerns past their counsel.
Stepping back, I told them most Bike Fed members I have talked to understand the need to permit any event in which a fee is charged, things are sold or requires special services from county staff. I suggested that instead of asking everyone to fill out a user form, they just put up the checklist on the permit page and ask anyone who answers “yes” to any of the questions to fill out a permit.
They responded that the County Parks Department would like to know about all organized events happening on the Oak Leaf Trails and in the parks because they believe the number of events is growing rapidly. They said even small events often require additional services, like emptying full trash cans. Those garbage cans might not be on a schedule to be emptied, but if the Parks Department knows a ride will stop in a park, county staff will empty the trash the following day.
Again, that seemed reasonable to me, but I suggested that many small events don’t leave any trash behind. I suggested that the checklist be specific about those sorts of services and if a group will leave behind full garbage cans, they should notify the county, just like if you reserve a picnic area.
Addressing the need to track the growing number of events on our trails and in our parks, I also suggested that people who use social media to promote a free event could simply tag the Oak Leaf Trail or Milwaukee County Parks in their event or post. Then the county would get a notification and could not only track events, but review if the event might require a permit or conflict with another permitted event. Because most of the Bike Fed members I have spoken to are strong advocates for the Oak Leaf Trail and our parks, most would be happy to tag the county if doing so helps improve our parks and trails.
Based on our meeting, county staff said they would revisit their policy and report back to us. They also offered to come to the local advocacy meeting I am planning for later in October. I have not finalized the date or location for that meeting yet, but I will announce that meeting soon.
The bottom line is we carried your complaints to the County Parks staff, they listened and are modifying their policies based on that input. That’s the way government is supposed to respond to a concerned citizenry. Even though things still move a bit slow for most people, this is a perfect example of why I do what I do for the Wisconsin Bike Fed. My job is to represent everyone who rides a bicycle in Wisconsin, at all levels of government and work to make our state a better place to ride no matter where you live. Working at the federal and state level has been extremely frustrating in recent years, but we can be even more effective moving bicycling forward if we work at the local level.
This story was originally published by the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.