A three-year effort to expand trails in the city of Weyauwega came to an end Monday, Sept. 22.
The common council voted to end its contract with Mead and Hunt, the firm which has served as a consultant on the trail project, and effectively closed the door on a $275,000 state grant.
The state Department of Transportation awarded the grant to Weyauwega in 2010 to build three segments of a trail.
It was estimated that the total project would cost nearly $348,000, with the city covering the remaining costs not covered by the state grant and Weyauwega Trails raising funds to help reimburse the city.
However, the project ran into challenges due to restictions in the grant and property owners who were unwilling to grant easements for the trail.
Initially, the project called for trail segments to be built on the city’s northwest side, southeast side and in a city park.
On the northwest side, the trail would have run from the edge of the Mill Pond Circle subdivision across three parcels to Third Avenue. The city owns one of the parcels, while the other two are privately owned.
City Administrator Patick Wetzel told the council Monday the other two property owners were not willing to grant the city an easement.
Wetzel said the owners offered to sell their properties, which he estimated would cost the city between $300,000 and $400,000.
Wetzel said he also reviewed the possibility of using the city’s eminent domain authority to obtain an easement for the trail. However, that option could take a couple years to implement, placing the city further behind schedule on the project.
“You can’t build a trail until you know where it’s going, and you can’t determine where it’s going until you have permission from property owners,” Wetzel said.
Wetzel said the city’s Recreation Committee then looked at the possibility of running the trails behind the schools.
However, he said the schools were not interested in having a paved trail on their property.
“The schools cannot change the nature of their backyard trails,” said Ald. Donna Allenstein, noting that schools received grants and donations for trails running through natural areas.
Allenstein also noted the primary purpose of the trail grant was to encourage more people to walk or bike rather than to drive into the city. Only the segment running from the Mill Pond Circle was specifically designed to accomplish that goal.
Efforts to find a route for the proposed trail’s southeast segment also ran into road blocks.
The southeast segment would run east from Lincoln Street, through the properties of CAP Services, Weyauwega Health Care Center and the former Wolf River Storage property, before curving north to end on Alfred Street.
Wetzel said the owners of the Wolf River Storage property were concerned the trail’s proposed route would basically cut their parcel in half, severely limiting their future development options.
While the health care center supported having the trail running across the back of its parcel, it did not want the trail to be rerouted to end at Alfred Street near its driveway, Wetzel said.
With three options off the table, the city is left with only the park segment, which is too small to qualify for the state grant.
“The committee has run into dead ends,” said Ald. Bruce Brunner. “Where else can we go when there’s a dead end?”
Wetzel noted the city was required to purchase 20-foot wide easements for the trail due to restrictions in the grant.
Mayor Mike Kempf said the city should explore other, less restrictive options for pedestrian and bike traffic, such as wider shoulders on some roads and sidewalks.
“Just because this grant falls through, doesn’t mean we can’t have a trail,” said Ald. Nick Gunderson. “If this grant isn’t going to work, maybe we need to investigate other grants.”
Mary Jane Baehman, with Weyawega Trails, noted that volunteers with her group worked for three years to develop the project.
“We have given up a lot,” Baehman said, noting the many evenings spent away from family in order to attend meetings. “We still have nothing accomplished.”
Baehman attributed some of the project’s difficulties to a lack of communication between the Weyauwega Trails group and the city’s Recreation Committee.
“We have been spinning our wheels trying to figure out our role in trying to make the trails a reality,” Baehman said.
Late in the meeting, Brunner made a motion that the city administrator contact the property owners at Mill Pond Circle to inquire if they would reconsider granting an easement.
The motion died due to the lack of a second.
Allenstein then made a motion to recognize the efforts of Weyauwega Trails, while recognizing that the city has “run into a dead end to fulfill the grant.”
The motion also included ending the contract with Mead and Hunt.
The council voted 4-1 in favor of Allenstein’s motion. Brunner cast the sole vote against the motion, and Ald. Johanna Edwards was absent.
“I believe the intent of the motion was not to proceed with the project,” Wetzel told the County Post after the meeting.
He said the council may need to take action regarding its decision not to continue pursuing the state grant.