The Board of Milwaukee County Supervisors voted Tuesday 3-2 in favor of a temporary moratorium on mountain biking in Mangan Woods. This decision also requires the Milwaukee County Parks Department to report to the Board for approval if 20% or more of a trail needs to be altered or new trails built. The final vote in front of the full Board of Supervisors on the 22 of this month.
The long and passionate testimony from 16 community members mostly rang against the resolution, criticizing it for being too broad and for the Board not having adequate reason to propose it in the first place.
Caressa Givens, a teacher and leader of the City of Milwaukee Bike and Pedestrian Task Force requested the board to give the Parks Department a review to justify the proposal. “There was a lack of information demonstrating the Parks Department has shown negligence to validate the need for this,” said Givens.
Ramsey Radakovich, of the Parks Department, asked the Board if they could make timely decisions on trail restoration, hinting at how hard it is to make ecological decisions without training. Radakovich and Guy Smith, Parks Chief of Operations, repeatedly said they would be willing to submit reports to the Board in leu of the resolution to keep them informed as that appeared to be a clear goal.
County Board Supervisors John Weishan, Jr., Anthony Staskunas and Patti Logsdon presented the resolution on March 16th and it was tabled until today. According to Weishan, the moratorium might only last a few months but did not reference the amount of work that would go into the turnaround, meaning it could be much longer.
Supervisor Staskunas said the issue came to his attention by complaints from his neighbors. “The neighbors in my district have a real concern here. They border the woods. Some of these new bike trails are coming very close to their yards and their lot lines,” said Staskunas. He went on to mention they were concerned about the “quality of life” dropping.
Supervisor Liz Sumner – who voted no on the amendment – had concerns about significantly slowing positive work done on the park trails. “I understand the want to have oversight,” she said. “I think this can propose a real challenge which would not allow us to take advantage of a lot of these volunteer opportunities just because we couldn’t fit it in a board schedule.”
Radakovich commented saying many times the Parks Department has small turnaround times for these projects and the additional “red tape” would complicate things. While the amendment passed, it does not have a clear amount of involvement from the board on the changes to trails. The 20% rule – which will bring any change that is 20% or greater to the Board for approval – does not specify if it applies to the length of a trail or the overall system of trails in a park.
“How much oversight do we have? We are supervisors, how much detail work are we doing? We are policy makers,” said Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman, who voted no on the amendment.
What is going on with the Kegel-Alpha Trail and Mangan Woods?
Mangan Woods is a hole-in-the wall in Whitnall Park that contains some of the largest old-growth hardwoods in the Milwaukee parks system. The four-mile Kegel-Alpha Trail in Franklin is subject to flooding, trail degradation and erosion. This all sounds pretty bad until you learn that Ald. Martin Weigel, and Founder of Metro Mountain Bikers, is using his organization to re-build the trail so it can be enjoyed by anyone on two legs or two wheels at no cost to the taxpayers.
“We ask you to support a system that has been working for 15 years and will continue to provide increasing recreation opportunities in Milwaukee County,” said Weigel during the meeting.
There were three main points used by Weishan. The first was mountain biking disturbs other activities on the trails such as bird watching and hiking. “The mountain bike activity is going to ruin the pleasantness of that walk,” said Weishan. He did not have a definite number of people who complained about this but said the people he spoke with complained about bikers. However, in spring and fall the trails are closed to bikers to prevent wear and tear. While the birds are active during migration, hikers and birdwatchers have the park to themselves. They also can continue birdwatching and hiking during the winter and summer. The renovation of the trail will protect the integrity of the ecosystem and designate specific pathways for recreational use, but also make the trails more accessible to bikers, because they will be moved to a higher location preventing some flooding.
The second was biking will reduce property value of the homes near Whitnall Park. The neighbors living around the trails have concerns about bikers damaging their property. It’s worth noting, there have not been any reports of this and, according to Weigel, the residents store their personal property on parks land and degrade the wildlife on the boarder of the parks and their private property. Sumner, on her visit to the park with the Parks Department, was surprised to confirm the large number of residents who had “encroached on the parks land, and perhaps that is why they thought it encroaches on their land.”
Finally, the supervisors cited danger to hikers and interference with homes that lines the park. “They are concerned they are going to have large numbers of mountain bikers that are going to be very close to their lot lines and their yards, and their quality of life might be changed because of this,” said Staskunas. The renovated Kegel-Alpha trail would not come any closer to the homes than the trails already do.
According to Weishan, there have been no reported incidents of a mountain biker hitting a hiker or birdwatcher. There have been reported incidents of mountain bikers being attacked by off-leash dogs while riding, according to Weigel.
Are the bikers really a danger on trail?
Some of the bikers who use this trail are students. Steffanie Wallin a teacher and the Franklin composite Assistant Coach of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA), teaches a team of bikers across many different school districts the basics of cross-country mountain biking. They teach the students techniques for safe riding and how to respect the trails. “So much of what we do is not just focused on bike skills but also being a good human,” said Wallin. “We of course teach leave no trace and we teach riders to only ride trails that are open.” Wallin also worked with Metro Mountain Bikers as a volunteer to help with re-routing the Kegel-Alpha trail.
One biker who has been visiting Whitnall park for over 10 years is Jason Wierek. “Unfortunately, not many other mountain biking options exist in southern Milwaukee County,” said Wierek. This is the same issue that plagues the students of Franklin. With students from Oak Creek to Greendale, the Kegel-Alpha trail is their home field. “If it isn’t open, we have to take the kids all the way out to Waukesha County to Minooka mountain bike trail, which is quite a haul,” said Wallin. There is a fee requirement at Minooka Park, which can prove difficult for some students to afford, especially if they must go out there for every practice.
The donations that are given to the maintenance of parks that allow mountain biking are largely funded by mountain bikers and biking organizations, according to Sydney Shimko, the coach of the Shorewood NICA team. The Kegel Foundation and Wheel and Sprocket – which is now run by Amelia Kegel – have donated over $100,000 over the last five years to the parks system. Metro Mountain Bikers is redoing the Kegel-Alpha trail at no cost to the taxpayer and purchased a significant number of the signs that are in the parks system, according to Weigel. NICA also encourages their student riders and their coaches to volunteer to help manage the trails by picking up trash or picking invasive species at clean-up events.