Summer Solstice brings new visions for Ahnapee Trail
The summer solstice, the longest day of sunlight in a year, is celebrated in many cultures as a time of enlightenment and new ideas.
So it seems fitting that as the Friends of the Ahnapee State Trail host their third Ahnapee Summer Solstice Run 50 on Saturday, June 18, they are unveiling their vision for the future of the 48-mile trail that winds through Kewaunee and Door counties.
The friends’ plans includes an expanded summer solstice race, a new Luxemburg trailhead facility and trail extensions over the next 20 years to Green Bay and the northern tip of Door County.
“For this year’s race, we are drawing more people from Milwaukee and other areas outside the county,” said Al Kulhanek, a friends’ board member. “We are excited to showcase the natural beauty of the trail.”
Kulhanek said that the shaded trail makes an ideal route for a summer race, and his group hopes to draw more runners to race each year..
Melissa Dupke, another friends’ board member, agrees. A teacher at the Denmark Community School, she says that she bikes a 100 miles and runs 30 miles a week and prefers the limestone gravel trail to running on roads, which are harder on joints and require more safety precautions.
“People start out to run 4 miles and are so entranced by the beauty along the trail they run 10 miles,” said Kulhanek. “We even have a birdwatcher’s group in Algoma that is using the trail regularly.”
The friends plan to use some of the race proceeds to fund a future trailhead facility, which will offer tourist information, meeting areas, souvenirs, and restrooms. It may also feature an historical exhibit on former Kewaunee and Door county railroads that operated between 1890 and 1968. It is these railroad track beds that were used to build the Ahnapee State Trail beginning in 1975..
“For Kewaunee County, the trail gives people a reason to come here besides fishing,” said Dupke. “If you want to increase tourism, you have to bring in a different crowd of recreational users.”
To date, the friends’ group has raised approximately $25,000 for a Luxemburg trailhead facility, she said.
One of their models is the Elroy-Sparta trailhead facility in Sparta.
The Elroy-Sparta trail brings more than 60,000 visitors to the Sparta area annually resulting in an economic impact for Sparta of $1.4 million a year, says Tim Hyman, chief executive officer for the Sparta Chamber of Commerce. The chamber of commerce offices, as well as tourism facilities, are located at the trailhead facility, he said.
The Sparta trail, which began with a 32-mile trail on an old railroad bed in 1965, has today been extended to include 101 miles of interconnected trails.
The interconnection of trails is key to drawing bikers and other users to the Kewaunee County area, Dupke said.
That is one reason that the Friends of the Ahnapee Trail are proposing that the trail be extended to Green Bay and the northern tip of Door County in the next two decades, said Dupke.
“We want to make it so you never have to be on the road,” she said.
There are two kinds of trails that have been built with railroad connections – trails on old rail beds and trails with rails, where the bike trail follows an existing railroad trail, according to Dupke.
The friends group plans to begin talks with the Canadian National Railroad about extending the Ahnapee Trail, which now ends in Luxemburg, approximately 16 miles along its railroad tracks to connect with the Baird Creek Parkway trail in Green Bay, she said.
“We could use the right of way on either side of the rail tracks,” she said.
The board believes that this could be a big boom to tourism.
“The hookup to Green Bay could be such a benefit to Luxemburg and Kewaunee County, ” Kulhanek said.
“We want to inspire Brown County and Mayor (Jim) Schmitt to work with us on this project,” said Dupke. “We are trying to open a dialogue with Green Bay to make it a cycling hub.”
Dupke also has her eyes on an old railroad turntable in the Fox River south of Mason Street that could be used to connect other bike trails in the area, including the Fox River Trail and Mountain Bay Trail.
In Door County, the friends group is already working with the Door County Parks Department to extend the Ahnapee Trail’s northern route across the bridge on Wisconsin 57 to the northern part of the county.
Denise Denil, a spokersperson for the Door County Parks Department, confirmed that they have received grant money from the DNR for this extension.
“We are in the process of plans to extend the trail over the Bayview Bridge,” said Denil. “But past that, there would have to be more grant money.”
The Friends group envisions two different approaches to extending the trail farther north, said Dupke.
One would require working with the county and all the towns and villages to develop a trail system along existing Highways 57 and 42 that would extend up each shoreline to meet at the tip of the peninsula.
“We would want to have separate designated paths,” said Dupke, adding that for safety reasons they could not be developed just by widening the existing highways..
The other would require obtaining rights from landowners to extend the trail up the center of the county in what she calls a “stem and leaves” approach, where various local trails in the county would connect with the stem at the center, Dupke said.
She noted that both Peninsula State Park and the town of Washington on Washington Island have developed local bike trails that they have designated as part of the Ahnapee Trail.
The friends board continues to develop these long-range plans and is working with the Department of Natural Resources, which owns the trail, to obtain grants to implement them, said Kris Fulwiler who has been on the friends’ board since 1990.
The friends board includes members that represent different users of the trail – including bicyclists, equestrians, snowmobilers, cross country skiers, runners and hikers, she said.
An equestrian who lives in Algoma, Fulwiler said she walks her dogs on the trail every day and rides her horse on it weekly.
“The solitude and nature are what make it special,” said Fulwiler. “The public doesn’t use it as much as they should.”
She said that the trail receives wide community support from 4-H Clubs, Eagle and Boy scouts, riding and snowmobilers clubs and others.
Currently, Fulwiler and the rest of the board are focused on the Ahnapee Summer Solstice 50 relay run. Approximately 100 runners have registered for the 50-mile run that begins in Sturgeon Bay at the Neenah Avenue trail head, winds through Algoma and Kewaunee and end at the Kewaunee County Fairgrounds in Luxemburg with a post-race evening party.
Many other not-for-profit groups provide volunteers to assist at the watering stations and the proceeds from the race are shared among these groups, she said.
The friends are encouraging more youth groups to enter by giving a discounted price of $75 for teams with members age 19 and under. The regular registration fee is $250 per team – with a 5-person maximum. Family members and friends who want to attend the post-race party can do so for $20. To register, or learn more about the race go to active.com or ahnapeetrail.org.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press Gazette: Summer Solstice brings new visions for Ahnapee Trail