Six years and just over a million dollars invested since its inception, the River Bend Trail is not only alive and well, but is on the fast track to expansion thanks to diligent and generous efforts from the community, The River District Development Foundation (RDDF) and ‘Friends of the River Bend Trail’.
According to foundation President Gene Bebel and Vice-President Jim Wedemeyer, the oncoming summer of 2017 will include yet another expansion of the 4-mile trail already in place.
Aside from current work in progress on the Agra Pavilion located at the trail head on Park Street, an additional expansion eastward from Park to Cooper Streets, is set to begin in July; from top bidder Merrill Sand and Gravel.
“We are very excited to get to work on our planned expansion this summer,” said Wedemeyer.
“This 3/4 mile expansion of the River Bend Trail will create a natural loop to walk along the Wisconsin River from Cooper Street, then back to Logan and Park Streets. It will be nice to have a piece of trail where someone can walk a small loop of trail, rather than having to walk the entire length of the trail; if they so choose”
The expansion of the trail will come with an estimated price tag of $171,000 for the extension alone, with paving to come later. Once paving is completed as well as placement of fencing, the project will come in with a final tag of $260,000.
As with all work completed thus far on the trail, July’s project will be paid for via grants and donations. A key grant received by the Foundation, was that of $113,000 from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s (WDNR) Stewardship Grant. As part of the grant funding, the foundation was asked to raise funds to match, which Bebel proudly admits; has already been accomplished thanks to fundraising efforts.
Expansion plans don’t stop with July’s project however, in fact trail supporters are already looking ahead for possible additional expansion in the near future.
“We would ultimately like to see the River Bend Trail span from Merrill to Wausau,” Wedemeyer adds with a grin.
“But that is years down the road. As for the near future we would like to see the trail connect to Wal-Mart,”
In terms of making the foundation’s short-term goal come to fruition, plans are already in the works for a possible expansion of the trail from Cooper Street to Big Eddy Road; to ultimately include Bluebird Lane.
According to Wedemeyer, the DNR has already been contacted as well as the US Army Corps of Engineers.
“We have met with representatives from the DNR and the Army Corps of Engineers, and walked the prospective path of the expansion with them,” he adds.
“Due to the area of the extension, we will have much more work ahead of us than other expansion projects. The plan would be to extend the trail to Bluebird Lane while staying along the river as much as possible. We have an ongoing Environmental and Engineering Study as we speak to examine a possible extension of the trail in the area, and cost. We are also investigating ‘right of way’ and the permit process. If all goes as we hope, we may have a plan in place by next spring.”
Other trail expansion plans in the works include a 10 acre parcel between Kyes and Cooper Streets, known as the “D&L Property.”
“That property was donated to us,” Bebel adds.
“Thanks to generous donations from Church Mutual Insurance and the community foundation, we were able to clear the property and make it ready for RFP (Request for Proposal) this fall,”
When asked of their motivation for bringing a once controversial idea for a recreational trail to fruition and subsequent expansion, the pair agree on a simple concept; benefiting the local community.
“We feel this is another way of really tying the community together,” Wedemeyer explains.
“One of our initial goals with creating the trail in the first place was to open up abandoned properties for re-development. When our organization got started we identified the trail as just one of our first projects to not only up opportunities for development in the Merrill community, but to increase opportunities for the community to engage in recreational activities while using the trail.”