This is a short synopsis of what is happening in Polk County.
Polk County is spending $80,000 to perform a feasibility study on potential routes that would connect the City of St. Croix Falls to Burnett County for ATV/UTV and equestrian use. SRF Consulting Group, an engineering consultant, has been hired to research four different possibilities for incorporating year-round ATV and equestrian use within the Gandy Dancer State Trail corridor.
From the Project Narrative as listed on the Polk County’s webpage:
The in-depth feasibility study needs to evaluate at least four different options for evaluating an ATV/UTV and equestrian connection between St. Croix Falls and Burnett County, along with any other route options the proposer considers viable.
Among the four minimum options are the following:
1) The creation of a parallel route for ATV/UTV’s and equestrians within the same right-of-way as the existing Gandy Dancer Trail.
2) Utilizing a mix of space within the road right-of-way, Gandy Dancer Trail right-of-way, on-road routes, and on the existing trail.
3) Adding these uses to the existing trail surface.
4) Creation of a parallel route through the purchase of easements on private lands along the existing Gandy Dancer route.
Our Position (Friends of Gandy Dancer State Trail)
The Friends of Gandy Dancer’s focus and mission is to promote people powered recreation. With that stated, we support snowmobile use of the trail. In the 1990’s – when this rail trail was developed – Polk County, Burnett County and the WI DNR developed the trail as a high quality experience for snowmobile and pedestrian use. This decision has proven cost effective in that the limestone surface has required minimal maintenance.
Our concerns with adding ATV/UTV traffic and equestrians to the existing trail surface and/or corridor are many. Safety and enjoying time in nature without noise and dust are obvious concerns. The sensitive limestone is also a concern in that this surface material will not be able to withstand motorized and equestrian use and will result in a trail unsafe for pedestrians and will be costly to maintain. And, based on past experience in Polk County, our community has reason to believe that county supervisors making decisions regarding this issue might insist on a solution that does not correspond with the evidence or concerns of silent sport enthusiasts.
Additional reasons we are concerned about the study:
- Adjacent land owners have not been notified of the study.
- This study does not provide the public an opportunity to comment.
- The study does not contain a “leave the trail as it is or do nothing” option leading us to believe leaders will choose one of the four options which will likely have an impact on the corridor, adjacent property owners and will discourage hikers and cyclists from wanting to chose Polk County as a rail trail destination.
- Polk County’s recent tourism research showcases a need for increasing quiet sport opportunities, not decrease.
- The City of St. Croix Falls serves as the gateway to the Gandy Dancer. The City’s recently established Outdoor Recreation Plan did not result in a need for developing equestrian and/or ATV/UTV trails in or around the City.
- The Ice Age Trail, one of America’s National Scenic Hiking Trails, utilizes 15 miles of the Gandy Dancer Trail.
- Area schools, nursing homes and mental health facilities utilize the Gandy Dancer for fitness training, enjoyment of nature and healing.
- There are several miles of the Gandy Dancer that are designated by Cornell University as birding hot spots.
The study is now in its final phase. As of 5/17/23 it appears motorized use of the trail is no longer a viable option. The two options that are being considered are option “C” which is: add equestrians to the existing trail alongside all other user groups or option “E” which was recently added and is a do-nothing/keep the trail “as is”.
The consultants are scheduled to present their findings to the County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday June 20th at 6pm in Balsam Lake at the Gov’t Center. Public comment at the start of the meeting is welcome. Written comments can be emailed to the Polk County Clerk ahead of time at: email@example.com
Adding equestrian use has safety and maintenance implications. If a separate bridal path were considered, the Friends of Gandy could get behind this controversial addition. Without a separated path, we cannot.
For more information about the study, please visit Polk County, WI website.
If you are a resident of Polk County, please reach out to your County Supervisor and let them know your concerns. Find your County Supervisor’s contact information here.
For more information about the history and importance of rail trails, visit Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s website.
Here are two excerpts from Rails-to-Trails Conservancy…
“As people are placing higher value on safe places to walk and bike, trails increasingly are considered an essential element for a healthy community and improved quality of life. This cultural shift means that trails and interconnected networks have become a competitive economic advantage for communities across the nation. Trails and trail networks not only make a state’s residents healthier and fitter but can also draw high-quality employers, economic growth and tourism.”
“Today, rail-trails are continuing to make a significant mark on American communities, with more than 21,000 miles of rail-trails providing a place for tens of millions of people to walk, run, hike, skate and cycle each year.”