Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Friends Group Fundraises for Oak Leaf Sinkhole

Group hopes to raise the matching funds the county needs for the project.

By - Nov 7th, 2020 08:59 am
A sinkhole has forced Milwaukee County to close a part of the Oak Leaf Trail. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

A sinkhole has forced Milwaukee County to close a part of the Oak Leaf Trail. File photo by Graham Kilmer.

A local trails advocacy group is fundraising to repair a sinkhole that has jeopardized a section of the Oak Leaf Trail

The sinkhole is in Glendale, on a key piece of the Oak Leaf called The Zip Line – a six-mile trail that provides a direct connection between downtown Milwaukee and Ozaukee County.

The sinkhole started forming in 2018 as a century-old culvert underneath the trail, built on a former railroad corridor, started to deteriorate. First there were cracks in the paving, then eventually a sunken circle of asphalt at least 15 feet in diameter appeared.

Recently, Milwaukee County was awarded a grant by the state Department of Transportation for approximately $530,000 to fix the sinkhole. Though the grant has already been awarded, it requires a local match of 20% and technically functions as a reimbursement.

Into the breach has stepped Friends of the Trails, an advocacy group affiliated with the Park People of Milwaukee County. It has started a fundraising campaign with the goal of raising $120,000 to provide the matching funds the county needs to move forward with the project.

The parks system already has a massive backlog of capital projects, but the county lacks the ability to pay for them. In 2019, then-County Executive Chris Abele said the parks were at a “crisis point” because of the funding imbalance. In a report, the Wisconsin Policy Forum described the backlog as “seemingly insurmountable.”

Projects awarded grants from the Transportation Alternatives Program are scheduled within four-year windows. And there are several layers of state reviews at each step of the process. So it still could be a few years before work begins, according to Milwaukee County Parks.

Another park project that was recently awarded a TAP grant was Ravine Road Bridge in Lake Park. The 111-year-old bridge was closed in 2016 out of an abundance of caution, as there was concern it was at risk of collapse. In 2019, the project was awarded a $2 million TAP grant and the county approved bonding approximately $500,000 to cover the 20% match.

To date, construction on the bridge has not yet begun.

Like the Oak Leaf sinkhole, the county was entertaining the possibility of accepting private donations to fund the bridge project.

Alex Lemann has taken the helm of organizing the fundraiser for the sinkhole. He lives in Shorewood and uses the Oak Leaf to bike to work every day at Marquette University Law School, where he’s an assistant professor. “It’s like this superhighway for bikes that takes you right Downtown,” he said.

He told Urban Milwaukee he feels lucky that he doesn’t have to skirt the sinkhole every day on his way to work, but said he still often uses the Zip Line. “I love escaping from the city that way.”

The Zip Line was built in 2015 as an extension of the Oak Leaf, which involved converting 3-miles of abandoned railway corridor into a trailway. It’s one of the most popular pieces of the trail network, and the parks department estimates that it sees somewhere around 350,000 multi-use trips a year.

The GoFundMe page has been up for approximately two weeks and it already has more than $13,000. Any money the group raises will go towards the matching funding for the project.

Lemann said that anyone interested in the Friends of the Trails group is invited to join, even if they can’t donate to the sinkhole project. This is the first major project the friends group is getting involved in, Lemann said. And he hopes it will inspire more to join the group, and advocate for the county’s trails.

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One thought on “MKE County: Friends Group Fundraises for Oak Leaf Sinkhole”

  1. Mingus says:

    This trail wad opened several years ago as a rails to trails government grant. I would think that the County should go back and look at the engineering reports that were done by the company that did the work on the trail. This replacement should have been anticipated and done when the original trail was built. Maybe the company would want to come up with County’s share instead of facing lawsuits.

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