Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Campaign Underway To Improve, Extend Beerline Trail

Trail would be transformed into park with a goal of uniting neighborhoods.

By - Jan 22nd, 2021 01:48 pm
Beerline Trail linear park plan. Rendering by Hood Design Studio.

Beerline Trail linear park plan. Rendering by Hood Design Studio.

Efforts are underway to transform the existing section of the Beerline Trail from E. Burleigh St. to W. Capitol Dr. into a linear park, add access points to the trail and extend the trail further northwest, across Interstate 43.

Called the Lifeways Plan, the proposal would further enhance the connection between Riverwest and Harambee neighborhoods by improving the former railroad corridor that runs diagonally through the area.

Greater Milwaukee Committee president Julia Taylor and Riverworks Development Corporation executive director Darryl Johnson briefed GMC members on the plan during the organization’s Monday meeting.

“We are so excited that the progression of the trail has grown into what we are doing today,” said Johnson.

“We have seen, in the past year more than ever before, the importance of green spaces, including trails and parks,” said Taylor.

It’s a project they have been working on for almost a decade. In 2013, the partners, standing at what was then an abandoned rail line, announced the first major funding commitment, a $350,000 grant, to support the construction of a completely off-street northern leg from E. Keefe Ave. to W. Capitol Dr. It opened in 2015.

A southern leg, with frequent street interruptions, already ran between E. Keefe Ave. to E. Burleigh St. The county built an unconnected, off-street stretch along the Milwaukee River from E. Locust St. to N. Commerce St.

The organizations report that $2.9 million has been invested in the last decade in the two legs from E. Burleigh St. to W. Capitol Dr., including land acquisition, development and programming.

The 0.6-mile northern leg from E. Keefe Ave. includes few street connections, largely running behind a series of industrial properties. Efforts have been made to paint murals on the buildings and provide temporary programming, including live music, food truck rallies and an annual run-walk event.

But the Lifeways Plan, designed by Walter Hood of Hood Design Studio, calls for the trail to become a park worthy of lingering in at any time. The landscape architect designed the proposal in connection with the project partners and neighborhood residents.

“We need investments large and small from everyone,” says Kennita Hickman in a new fundraising video for what is being called the Beerline Connector Park.

The proposal calls for community greenhouses, a performance stage, exercise equipment and “other first-class amenities.”

Johnson said efforts are also being made to develop a connector building at 274 E. Keefe Ave. that could host a cafe and community gathering space.

In the meantime, the city is pursuing grants to build more connections.

“We are at an exciting turning point in our work on the Beerline Trail,” he said.

The proposal is being endorsed by Carol Coletta, CEO of Memphis River Parks and former CEO of ArtPlace America, the organization that provided the first cash grant to the project.

“Investing wisely in trails and greenspaces will always pay off. Investing in equity will always pay off,” said Coletta. “If you do it right, an investment in trails will also be an investment in equity.”

She’s also a fan of the branding. “The Beerline Trail has to be the best name for any civic asset, any amenity, anywhere,” said Coletta. The name is a reference to the customers on the line, which stopped being used in 1990. While it served dozens of industrial customers on the city’s North Side, Milwaukee Road‘s Beerline provided key rail access for Pabst, Blatz and Schlitz from the north edge of Downtown.

Following the trail from its southern tip near N. Humboldt Ave. to its current terminus at W. Capitol Dr. is an approximately 2.7-mile jaunt. Adding the other trails along N. Commerce St. to your trip gets you closer to the journey taken by untold bottles of beer and brewing ingredients.


The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is committed to rebuilding Interstate 43 to support the trail crossing under it. WisDOT Secretary Craig Thompson, speaking on a panel Monday, said the state would award contracts to rebuild the freeway in February with a multi-year construction process to follow.

“When you look at the Beerline Trail, it’s an example of community development done right,” said Thompson.

He credited Mayor Tom Barrett and County Executive David Crowley with the push to make sure the rebuilt freeway was designed to accomodate the connection. “It’s one of those things that you have to get engineers, you have to push them a bit,” he said.

The trail currently terminates just north of W. Capitol Dr., leveraging the former railroad bridge to cross the arterial street. But the former railroad corridor continues northwest, running past the Home Depot store at 4155 N. Port Washington Rd. before going under Interstate 43 and becoming an active rail line again near N. Teutonia Ave. and W. Hampton Ave.

The City of Milwaukee acquired a portion of the former corridor in 2019 west of N. 20th St. for use as a future trail and secured a grant in 2020 to build a trail running north from the corridor along the N. 20th St. utility corridor.

Johnson said the vision is to unite the Beerline Trail with the new northwest trails, including others planned in the Century City area, in future phases.

In addition to the GMC, Riverworks, City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County, partners on the improvements including MKE<->LAX, LISC Milwaukee, Rails to Trails Conservancy, Greater Milwaukee Foundation, Bader Philanthropies and Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation.

Donations can be submitted on the Riverworks website.

A 2019 equitable implementation plan details opportunities, challenges and next steps to improve the trail. The Lifeways Plan is also available online.

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