The efforts of two New London High School students has sparked a renewed interest for the Newton Blackmour State Trail.
The trail, running from Seymour to New London, will reach the outskirts of the New London by fall.
Maddie Schroeder, a junior at NLHS and Amber Pethke, a senior, organized an informational meeting and sign unveiling at New London last week.
City officials, business owners, citizens and even congressional representatives attended the event at Pfeifer Park Wednesday, May 21.
Schroeder and Pethke opened by explaining their project which began through the School of Enterprise Marking at NLHS. The School of Enterprise Marketing is a project based learning class within the school, where students are given the opportunity to choose subjects they are interested in.
“Maddie and I were both interested in writing a grant and finding a way to give back to our community,” said Pethke.
“Throughout our high school career we’ve received unbelievable support from our community. It is hard to find ways to thank everyone for their support. So we thought why not show our gratitude by helping improve our community in the three ways Maddie and I value life – Educationally, environmentally, and through living a healthy lifestyle,” Pethke said.
“We invited you here tonight to educate you on the future plans of the Newton Blackmour State Trail, and to regain excitement for the route that will be coming into our city,” Schroeder said.
The two wrote and received an Environmental Sustainability Fast Track Grant through the Community Foundation of the Fox Valley Region, which allowed them to put on the community awareness and sign unveiling event.
“It is our hope through the Community Foundation we will be able to write a second grant called the Environmental Sustainability Partnership Grant to aid the construction of the trail,” said Schroeder.
They invited local business leader Beth Hutchison to speak on the positive impacts of the trail for local businesses.
Hutchison owns Familiar Grounds Coffee and Gifts at 206 N. Pearl Street. She said, “Small businesses need high customer counts to stay in operation. Being connected to the trail system would give an opportunity for our community to promote all our businesses.”
“Trail towns are destinations,” Hutchison said. “Trail users often venture off trails to enjoy the scenery and services a community has to offer.”
Next, New London educator Tiffany Schulz spoke on the positive impact the trail would have on youth and the environment. Schulz teaches phy-ed at NLHS, and is a board member at Mosquito Hill Nature Center.
She welcomed the idea of another opportunity for youth to get out, be active, exercise and learn new environments.
“Trails generally raise awareness amongst community members,” Schulz said. “It is a way for them to get out and see a part of the countryside they wouldn’t normally see.”
New London Director of Parks and Recreation, Chad Hoerth spoke on the trail description and completion process. He also shared some information on the economic impacts of trails in Wisconsin.
“Biking boosts the Wisconsin Economy by $1.5 billion annually,” said Hoerth. In Sparta, 15,500 visitors use their bike trails with an economic impact of $994 million.
Hoerth explained that the Newton Blackmour State Trail name is derived from the four major communities it passes through: New London, Shiocton, Black Creek and Seymour.
When finished, the trail will span a grand total of 23 miles through Outagamie and Waupaca County.
The 14-mile segment of trail from New London to Black Creek is still under construction with an anticipated opening this fall. From Seymour the trail connects to the Duck Creek Trail, which continues into the Oneida Nation.
Hoerth said Outagamie County is developing the trail from Black Creek to the city limits of New London at House Road. The city is then going to develop from House Road into New London and Pfeifer Park.
“This is a little different in that the last one mile section will be a ‘Rails with Trail’ application,” said Hoerth. “Outagamie County’s section is a ‘Rails to Trail’ application utilizing the old railroad bed.
He pointed out three specific areas on an overhead map that will pose different challenges within the last mile of trail coming into New London. Engineering work and permitting processes will need to be complete before construction begins.
The first obstacle moving west from House Road is two overpasses where the trail will run underneath. The next area presenting a challenge is a wetland. Hoerth said that this 800 foot area would likely require construction of a board walk. The trail would then continue West past New London’s dog park to river road.
The final challenge is the construction of a bridge crossing the Embarrass River to join the trail with New London’s trail system in Pfeifer Park.
Hoerth said the city would have to hire a design firm, which would cost $40,000 to $80,000.
“First we would have to work with an engineering firm on the design, and we would have to work with the DOT and DNR on permitting, and then we can determine the actual cost of constructing this final section of trail,” said Hoerth.
An account is already set up for anyone wishing to make a tax deductible donation for the final leg of the trail. Hoerth said they will also seek grant funding to offset the design and construction cost of the trail.
Mayor Gary Henke addressed the audience next.
“This is something we’ve been looking forward to for a few years,” said Henke. “As far as I’m concerned this is not something we’d like to do, this is something we must do and there are a lot of reasons for that.”
“Trails support an active lifestyle and improve health through physical activity. Trails attract tourism, which helps create jobs and puts money into the local economy,” explained Henke.
He also said that trails typically increase local property values, and add to the general quality of life in a community.