Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Supervisors Push To Be Bike Trail Czars

Parks committee approves resolution giving it approval power over bike trails maintenance, alterations.

By - Apr 14th, 2021 07:39 pm
John Weishan, Anthony Staskunas and Patti Logsdon.

John Weishan, Anthony Staskunas and Patti Logsdon.

What began with complaints about alterations to a mountain bike trail in Franklin may end with the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors giving itself new power over staff in the Milwaukee County Parks department.

The full board will soon consider legislation that would give it the authority and final approval of any major alterations made to bike trails in Milwaukee County. The legislation defines a major alteration as 20% of a trail or more. If the extent of the alteration cannot be determined, the director of the parks department must then consult with the county supervisor representing that area.

This legislation was first authored in 2019 by Sup. John Weishan after parks staff held a public meeting on the bike trial at Ross Lodge, 6750 S. 92nd St. in Whitnall Park.

The impetus for staff making changes to the Kegel-Alpha Trail was to protect the historic Mangan Woods which it runs through. Mangan Woods sits east of Whitnall Park across 92nd Street, and north of W. Rawson Avenue. When the ground is wet or when it snows, sections of the current trail are unusable, and this causes riders to use hiking trails and unofficial “social trails.” This leads to degradation of local plant life and erosion of existing trails.

After the public meeting, not everyone was happy with the proposed changes. A number of nearby residents were displeased that the mountain bike trail would be running nearer their property lines.

Weishan’s response was to draft legislation that requires county board approval for all trail alterations within the county parks system. This was eventually pared down to “major alterations” in an amendment.

When Weishan first drafted the legislation in 2019, the board failed to take it up before the end of the 2018-2019 board term and it was placed on file. Now that the legislation has been revived, Weishan has Supervisors Anthony Staskunas and Patti Logsdon as co-sponsors.

The committee debated the proposal in March for nearly two hours, but tabled it for their meeting in April. Then on Tuesday, the committee debated for another hour and half before eventually voting to approve the amended legislation three to two, with committee chair Sup. Sheldon Wasserman and Sup. Liz Sumner voting against the ordinance change, and Supervisors Steven Shea, Felesia Martin and Sylvia Ortiz-Velez voting in favor.

Parks Director Guy Smith and other parks staff spoke against the proposal at both committee meetings. Smith explained that the parks system has nearly 200 miles of bike trails and “It would diminish our efficiency and timeliness if we need to come back to the county board for these repairs regularly.” 

Under the amended resolution parks would only require approval for alterations of 20% or more. But the legislation doesn’t spell out how parks would measure if a project covers 20% of a trail. Instead, the legislation simply states that, in the event this confusion arises, parks will defer to the local supervisor on whether the project should go before the board for approval. Which would give every supervisor the power to require a review of any alteration of bike trails. 

The sponsors and the supervisors in favor explained that they felt the board should have oversight of individual bike trail projects within the parks system. Staskunas lamented that so much authority has been taken from the board, a feeling many supervisors share. 

But the board has not funded additional capacity within the parks department, though its staff will now be expected to devote more hours to explaining trail projects to supervisors. This is the added burden to an already underfunded parks department that Smith and staff opposed.

In Mangan Woods, the parks department has conducted an inventory and mapped the footprint of every trail in the woods. It has conducted a three season vegetation review. In 2017, it had a professional trail consultant do a study, which recommended adding trails to Mangan Woods. All of this was done to inform their planning of the reroute of the Kegel-Alpha Trail.

A handful of supervisors took a “field trip” to the park this spring, as many referred to it, and, should the ordinance pass, will have that as the only independent research done by the board when considering whether to approve the project.

“We do not want to be micromanagers of our experts. We hired them for a reason,” Martin said, but later said, “We would not be good stewards if we voted no” on the resolution requiring board approval of potentially every alteration in 200 miles of bike trails. 

For the past two months, while the board has been debating this policy, parks has been unable to move forward with the project at Mangan Woods, and the problems it set out to fix two years ago have persisted, leading to further degradation. So things stand for at least another month, if the ordinance passes, because that’s the soonest the parks committee will be able to meet and offer its approval.

But Sup. Staskunas saw this is a good thing, saying: “I think this process is working exactly how I would like to see the process work moving forward.”

Staskunas essentially conceded the board has already slowed down the project — a concern parks staff has for all future bike trail projects under the proposed ordinance — saying, “If we didn’t author this resolution, the parks committee wouldn’t know about Mangan Woods, the citizens wouldn’t be involved and they’d probably be in the middle of construction right now.”

In fact, citizens were consulted at the public meeting back in 2019.

2 thoughts on “MKE County: Supervisors Push To Be Bike Trail Czars”

  1. steenwyr says:

    I filed eComments “against” (prior to committee meeting), what are the odds the full board reads or sees any of that before they vote?

  2. brthompson says:

    Wasserman and Sumner are right. This proposal is pandering to the nimbies. (Not in my back yard).

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