Dave Schlabowske
Bike Czar

New County Policy Discourages Biking Events

Use of parks and Oak Leaf Trail requires two-week notice and $250 non-refundable fee, even for free events. Bike Federation protests policy.

By , Bike Federation of Wisconsin - May 4th, 2015 04:02 pm

UPDATE: At 5pm I got a call at the office from Milwaukee County Parks Director John Dargle just as I was packing up to bike home via the Hank Aaron and Oak Leaf trails. He said he was calling about some confusion over the permit issue. We had a pleasant conversation and he clarified that we can use Facebook and other social media to invite the public to any free activity on parks property that does not require special services. Thanks to everyone who called or emailed after our blog and social media post today. You were heard and we can assume that all Parks Department staff are on the same page about this now.

Director Dargle told me that the Parks Department is still reviewing their permit policy as it relates to activities the charge fees or do business in the Milwaukee County Parks, but nothing is changing or under review with regards to free events.

We will discuss this at the July 9th meeting of the Milwaukee County Trails Council, but again, only as the permit process relates to individuals or groups using the parks to raise money. I asked the same specific questions of him that I asked staff in previous meetings, and he assured me it is in fact OK to advertise those events to the public as long as no fees are charged. Dargle was very clear that would not change.

Regarding the Department’s concerns about about individuals and groups doing business and profiting in the parks without seeking a permit, I responded that the Bike Fed is always happy to pay permit fees and insurance fees when we have events that charge a fee.

At the Bike Fed we love our parks and trails and are always willing to advocate for them.

I want to publicly thank Director Dargle for his quick response clearing up the confusion on this issue as well as to all who took the time to call or email.


Permit Instructions

Permit Instructions

The Milwaukee County Parks Department now requires everyone fill out a permit application before using social media to promote any activity in a park or on the Oak Leaf Trail. When we asked senior Milwaukee County Parks staff to clarify the written policy, they told us it applies to everyone, even if the planned activity is free and requires nothing special from parks staff. The application must be submitted at least two-weeks before the event, and it includes a $250 non-refundable fee. This policy makes it so difficult to organize any sort of activity that I have directed Bike Fed staff in the Milwaukee office to stop planning any events that will use county parks or trails, including safe routes to school classes, fun rides, adult safety classes, bike to work week events, etc. rather than be in violation of county policy.

One of our Bike Fed members noted that it is actually easier and faster to buy a gun that it is to organize a little bike ride on the Oak Leaf Trail! As crazy as that sounds, it is actually true, so I am also asking all Bike Fed members to contact their County Supervisors and ask that this policy be changed.

Regular readers may remember that we reported about this new permit application after learning about it last September at the Milwaukee County Trails Council meeting. Our Milwaukee area members were enraged and wanted to start protest rides and organize other acts of civil disobedience. Before they started protesting, I asked people to wait and let our staff work with county officials to see if we could resolve the issue. After 6 months of meetings, it is clear we cannot get the Parks Department to change their policy, so we are calling on all our members to contact their County Supervisors and ask them to direct the Parks Department to change this policy. The information comes directly from the County Permit application form show at the top of the story

What if it was nice outside and I decided to organize a bike ride along the lake after work on a Friday? I was told I cannot share the event publicly on Facebook and invite people to join me without a permit. What if I want to organize a series of free, open to the public, full-moon bike rides on the trail? I must fill out a permit application before promoting the event in any way. What if some of our Safe Routes to School class bike rides go on the Oak Leaf Trail but we can’t be sure when? We must fill out a permit application or don’t bike on the trail.

We were told EVERYONE is required to apply for a permit before using social media to publicly invite people on a bike ride or other activity, AND you must be 21 or older to apply. AND you must include a detailed map of where you will go.  AND you must apply at least 2 weeks before the event. AND you must pay a $250 non-refundable application fee. AND you are invited to fill out an additional FEE REDUCTION REQUEST FORM to see if you qualify for a reduced $50 fee.

Please contact your Milwaukee County Supervisor and ask that they end the new department policy that everyone apply for a permit before using social media to invite people to a ride, run or other gathering in a park or trail. Please Cc Milwaukee County Parks Director John Dargle on that email.

  • Find your County Supervisor’s email here:
  • Milwaukee County Parks Director John Dargle’s email: john.dargle@milwaukeecountywi.gov

[Or you can use the form at the bottom of the story to notify the county board, county executive Abele, and director Dargle]

UPDATE: John Dargle notified the Bike Fed that people can use Facebook and other social media to invite the public to any free activity on parks property. But the county is still reviewing their permit policy, and nothing is final yet. More on this tomorrow.

Below is the email I sent to my County Supervisor, feel free to use it as a basis for your personal email to your elected official:

County Supervisor Cullen,

Since last October when we found out that Milwaukee County Parks had begun requiring that everyone apply for a permit before promoting any activities on the Oak Leaf Trail or in our County Parks, the Wisconsin Bike Fed has been meeting privately with senior staff at the Parks Department to try to get them to change the policy. It recently became clear that the Parks Department is not willing to significantly alter this policy, so we are asking our members who use Milwaukee County Parks or the Oak Leaf Trail to contact their county officials and ask that they change the policy.

We recommend that the Milwaukee County Parks Department only require people to fill out a permit application if one of the following conditions applies:

  • Will you be charging a fee for your event, ride or other activity?
  • Will your activity (the event itself or as a part of the overall event) require an exception to the standard rules that otherwise apply to all of the users of the park or trail?
  • Will your event requires something of Parks Dept. staff such as extra staffing, additional mowing, or extra garbage pick-up?
  • Will your event or activity significantly affect other parks or trail users?

If none of the above apply, people should not be required to fill out a permit application.

Thank you for looking into this. Feel free to contact me by email or phone if you wish to discuss this further.

Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director of the Wisconsin Bike Fed
Residence: 2205 N 59th Street

Everyone at the Bike Fed loves our parks and trails. The county parks workers do amazing work with extremely limited and ever shrinking resources. Many of us, me included, would be willing to pay more in property taxes or fees to support our wonderful parks system. That said, this permit process is not only overly onerous, we believe it is a violation of our right to free assembly and travel.

The next County Trails Council meeting is not until July 9th. I was told Parks permit staff will be at that meeting to discuss further “streamlining,” but with warm weather here today, I thought I would advise you all to stop using social media to invite your friends for full moon rides on the Oak Leaf, to meet you at Chill on the Hill, go for a morning run, or to invite your friends to a picnic. If you disagree with this policy, please contact your county supervisor to ask that the permit application be changed.

This article was originally published by the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.

Let the County Know Your Opinion

Categories: Bike Czar

6 thoughts on “Bike Czar: New County Policy Discourages Biking Events”

  1. Steven Blackwood says:

    Although I agree that the fee is rather high, especially as applied to a free or informal event, it might not be all that bad in practice. For example, there is nothing stopping one from using the private message function of Facebook to invite “friends” to go on a bike ride. On the other hand, the county does have an interest in being aware of mass use of the trail by a large group of people at one time, in one place.

  2. I got a call from Milwaukee County Parks Director John Dargle right as I was leaving the office for the day. He clarified that only events that charge a fee will be required to get permits and people are allowed to invite the public to free activities on the Oak Leaf Trail and in our Parks. He said that will not change.

  3. Virginia Small says:

    Kudos to both Bike Fed folks and John Dargle for resolving this issue speedily and smartly!

    Encouraging people to use our parks and trails, including by promoting free rides and gatherings, will help build and maintain support for our public spaces. Ride on!

  4. Tim says:

    Dave, as a semi-regular rider I really appreciate the way that you hold public officials accountable & get action from our local governments. Direct, fair & focused is what I see… in that vein, maybe the editor can update the article headline?

  5. Not exactly sure what you want changed in the headline, unless it is because the situation changed last evening when I got a call from Parks Director John Dargle to clarify the issue. He told me that nothing is going to change with free events and people are allowed to promote free activities to the public on social media or traditional media. Permits are needed for activities that charge fees or sell things, which is very reasonable.

    I updated this issue at about 8pm last night on the Bike Fed blog here, which is where Urban Milwaukee pulls this content from. Perhaps they have not had the time to update the content here yet, but I’m sure they will soon. Thanks for reading and writing back.

  6. @Tim, Not sure what Urban Milwaukee’s policy is on changing headlines once a blog has been published, but there is an update right at the top of the post. They did quickly add the update, and that happened last evening after Parks Director Dargle called me to clarify the issue. It is unfortunate that this issue even came up and seems to be the result of a series of misinterpretations of Parks permit policy by staff about a few free events we were promoting. The Parks Director was very quick to set things straight and the Wisconsin Bike Fed staff is back to planning and promoting events in our wonderful parks and on the Oak Leaf Trail. Thanks for reading, writing and riding!

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