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Feature Article - October 2009

Blazing a Trail

Designing & Maintaining Trails for Today's Users

By Kelli Anderson


"Unique" is the word many people use to describe the vision and results of an award-winning trail system proposed by the former mayor of Brookfield, Wis. Without a single dime of taxpayer money or arm-twisted-revenue to support the last six years of an estimated eight-year, 28-mile-long project, some might also call it ingenious.

"The Greenway Trail System is a hiking, walking, biking trail that connects parks and residential areas, which we've been working on the last six years," said David Burch, RLA with Bonestroo, an engineering and planning firm out of Mequon, Wis. "The project is unique in part because the city utilized easement fees from a utility agreement to fund and support the designing, planning, construction and maintenance of these trails."

Thanks to forward-thinking and smart negotiations with cell tower companies leasing land in the city's public parks, the leased revenue was directed to a fund dedicated to the future creation and maintenance of a trail system. As the money accrued to pay for various trails, the system has grown and continues to evolve. When complete, the system will include connections between residential, commercial and natural outlying areas to give its residents the kind of commuting and recreational experience they want.

"You have to think ahead," said Bill Kolstad, director of parks and recreation for the city. "One challenge is trying to install a trail system in urban areas where homes are already in place—then it's too late to get the land. We've done good advanced planning, but in some areas we ran into challenges in location."

Garnering community support and input was key to overcoming some of those challenges to create the kind of buy-in and consensus needed to develop public interest and enthusiasm. As more trails are created and future ones advertised, the public eagerly anticipates the ongoing improvement to their quality of life. "Also key has been a great brochure at each of the trail heads," Burch explained. "It tells the story of a complete network and what's in use now. It's a great promotional piece, and it has built anticipation by the residents."

Already winning several awards and recognition for its thoughtful design, the Greenway Trail System proves that the happiest trails are projects that recognize and take into account the changing needs of local commuters, recreators and just plain nature lovers. As with any good project, success is found in good planning, good design and responsible maintenance to keep a good thing going.

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