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Energy & Environment

Bike Trail Hearing Shows Divided Support, Opposition

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A Manitowish Waters property owner hopes to enlist the support of the Lac du Flambeau Tribal Council in his opposition to a new loop to Manitowish Waters’ popular bike trail.

Paul Frautschi of Madison was one of about 20 residents and other parties at a public hearing Tuesday, Jan. 10th who voiced either support or opposition to the project path that would cross state-owned land. Frautschi, who owns land near the site of the proposed addition, bought a number of Native American artifacts including copper arrowheads and spear points to the hearing at the Community Center. He said the artifacts date back 4,000 to 6,000 years. “It’s going to go over sacred Indian burial artifacts,” he said of the proposed loop. “The history we have here along the Manitowish Waters is priceless.” Frautschi said he bought the artifacts from a man who collected them from private property near the proposed route. He said the tribal council at its Jan. 23rd meeting would discuss the artifacts and likely a course of action.

Steve Peterson, superintendent of the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest, replied that the state Department of Natural Resources would conduct an archaeological review of the proposed route before any work could commence. He said such reviews were “routine,” but “pretty thorough.” “There is enough verification of where (they were) found that we realize that there may be something there,” he continued. “We will follow through and investigate it. What that means is that there may be some steps we take. It might mean avoidance, it might mean migration, it might mean collection and verification and documentation, and so on.”

More than 60 residents attended the Planning Commission hearing with the speakers supporting the loop in the majority, but not by much. Others expressing neutralism to the loop urged that the trail connect to the new Mercer Bike and Hike Trail to the north. The plan commission received 28 letters on the topic: 12 in favor, 11 against and 5 offering suggestions or having questions.

Town Chairman John Hanson received four letters in support of the loop.  “I’m totally in favor of the loop,” said long-time resident Barbara McFarland. “The loop is only going to bring in more tourism and more compliments to the town.” She said Manitowish Waters is known as the “gem of the northern part of the state” due to its bike trail system and all the “wonderful business here.” She called Liz Uihlein, a wealthy benefactor who has offered to pay for the loop construction, an “angel from Heaven.” David Bartling, owner of a local cranberry marsh and member of the town’s parks and trails committee, supports the trail connection to the Mercer trail and the loop expansion as “it would benefit every business in town” and “would cost the town absolutely nothing.”

Parks and trails committee member Dale White said the proposed loop avoids cutting many trees as it follows an old road. It was designed for safety of its users as well as being compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It avoids the river except for the river crossing. Using Tower Road as a bike route exposes bicyclists to hazards because it’s only 22 feet wide and has no shoulders, White said. “This trail (loop) is completely paid for,” he continued. “It will never be a burden to the taxpayers. It has an endowment behind it that any maintenance, anything that ever happens to this trail will be paid for its lifetime.”

Kim Kost was against that particular loop, dismayed about the prospect of another bridge over the Manitowish Waters that the trail would require. “The town shouldn’t be building any more trails” because of future maintenance costs, he said. He did favor connecting the town’s trail to that of Mercer’s. Greg Holt echoed Kost’s sentiments, saying that the state has declared Manitowish River as “exceptional water resource,” to be protected. A bridge 182 feet long, 10 feet wide would mar that natural beauty, along with construction displacement of the soil and the blacktopped path to and from the bridge. He said a segment of the town’s bike trail is already “family friendly” and handicap accessible, without having to cross U.S. Hwy. 51 twice.

David Coon of Stone Lake, a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, urged the town to “slow down; there’s no need to rush this” project. He too spoke of the historical and cultural significance of artifacts found in the area. “My ancestors are buried here,” he said. “We are being interfered with our cultural history. The excavation in this area absolutely is going to be desecrating our graves and interfering with our environment, our beautiful land. A bridge over that river is wrong.”

The town chairman said the bridge would be eight feet over the river and would not impede any river traffic. He noted that there are three bridges already over rivers in the town. “All of those are great additions to the trails that they provide services for. I’m completely for them because it gets the traffic off the roads.” “We are really going after nature when we are there,” said Chris Troller, a member of the parks and trails committee. “Blacktop, mowing and blowing is something very common with the bike trails we have.” The loop would disrupt a special place, Troller said. “It is a wonderful natural preserve. I can see that totally leaving us because of the bike trail.” Troller favored other options, such as going down Tower Road. Matt Mazur concurred: “We need to connect to Mercer, but we do not need to put in more bike trails.”

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