Earlier this summer, the River District Development Foundation announced plans to further expand the River Bend Trail eastward from Park to Cooper streets.
Last Wednesday, those plans started to take shape as staff of Merrill Sand and Gravel went to work.
According to Friends of the River Bend Trail co-chair Greg Hartwig, initial work is underway at Kyes Street, but will eventually conclude with the Park to Cooper connection.
During a June interview with the Merrill Foto News, Foundation administration revealed plans for the expansion, as well as the possibility of additional expansion further east to Walmart.
“We are very excited to get to work on our planned expansion this summer,” said Foundation Vice-President James 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, the current expansion will be paid for via grants and donations. A key grant received by the Foundation was $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 Foundation President Gene Bebel proudly admits; has already been accomplished thanks to fundraising efforts.
Expansion plans don’t stop with the most recent 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 added. “But that is years down the road. As for the near future we would like to see the trail connect to Walmart,”
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.”
Work also continues on the Agra Pavilion, located at the trail head on Park Street.
The Friends of the River Bend Trail are not only near the halfway mark in terms of fund raising but this past Saturday, nine volunteers from Lincoln Wood Products arrived at the Pavilion to begin installing donated windows from the company. According to Hartwig, a local retired plumber has recently pledged to donate all plumbing work for the pavilion.
Work is expected to wrap up on the expansion later this fall.
“On behalf of the Friends of the River Bend Trail, I would like to thank Agra Industries, Lincoln Wood Products as well as all of our donors and volunteers for their generosity in assisting with further development of the River Bend Trail and Agra Pavilion,” Hartwig added. “Their efforts are very much appreciated.”