GOODBYE, GAP: Federal funds will complete missing Old Abe Trail miles

Tom Giffey, photos by Andrea Paulseth

PEDAL PUSHER. Users of the Chippewa River Trail, shown above, will be able to bike all the way to Chippewa Falls – and beyond – when the final gap in the adjacent Old Abe State Trail is completed as early as 2018.
PEDAL PUSHER. Users of the Chippewa River Trail, shown above, will be able to bike all the way to Chippewa Falls – and beyond – when the final gap in the adjacent Old Abe State Trail is completed as early as 2018.

Even though the Chippewa Valley has become increasingly friendly for bicyclists in recent years, there’s still something missing – literally: There’s a 2.4-mile gap in what otherwise would be a continuous trail system connecting Menomonie, Durand, Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls, Cornell, and points between. The gap in the Old Abe State Trail between Lake Hallie and Chippewa Falls has forced bikers to find alternate methods of traveling between where the trail ends abruptly at 40th Avenue near the “tank farm” in Lake Hallie and begins again at the Highway 124 bridge across the river from downtown Chippewa Falls.

Soon, thanks to a federal grant, the two ends of the trail will be connected. The West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission announced Sept. 2 that $508,000 from the federal Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) would go toward a joint effort by the Village of Lake Hallie and the City of Chippewa Falls to build the missing segment. The grant will cover 80 percent of the cost of the project, the remaining 20 percent of which (about $127,000) will be shared by the two municipalities. The funding is expected to come in 2018, so you still have time to train for 80 miles of continuous pedaling.

Jeremy Gragert, northwest ambassador for the Wisconsin Bike Federation, is among those praising the news. He points out that this will be the first time since the original bike boom of the 1890s that Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire will be linked by such a trail. “Communities connected by this corridor see it as a great benefit for tourism, transportation access, the environment, quality of life, and economic development, and I agree,” he said. “We are in the midst of a new bike boom, but we need to work even harder as advocates to assure it is here to stay, and we all need to get our butts on bikes even more to continue the momentum.”

According to Jason Duba, assistant transportation planner with the regional planning commission, the funds will cover design, state review, and construction of the trail. The City of Chippewa Falls already owns the right-of-way for the segment I the city limits, while the portion in Lake Hallie is owned by Xcel Energy, which will allow of its right-of-way at no expense.

Back in 2010, the City of Chippewa Falls had received a $688,000 TAP grant to finish the trail connection. However, the state Department of Transportation rescinded the grant four years later because the money hadn’t yet been spent. (A potential frac-sand facility had caused a planning delay.) After that, the regional planning commission helped the two municipalities successfully seek the new grant.

“This completes a long process to connect the Chippewa River State Trail with the Old Abe State Trail and Red Cedar State Trail and is the last segment that will now provide a safe riding space between Durand, Menomonie, Downsville, Altoona, Eau Claire, Lake Hallie, Chippewa Falls, Jim Falls, and Cornell,” Rick Rubenzer, Chippewa Falls director of public works, said in a press release. “The City of Chippewa Falls is honored and excited to cosponsor construction of this final leg of the journey and welcomes bicyclist to this city and region.”

In addition to the money for the trail, the regional planning commission will receive $140,000 in federal funds to develop a regional bike and pedestrian plan for Dunn, Chippewa, and Eau Claire counties.

Gragert, of the Bike Fed, said such steps are necessary to help offer safe transit options for those who don’t drive. “There is a long way to go to build connectivity to and from the trail to places where people live, work, shop, and go to school,” he said. “We still need to create public transit (bus) connections between Eau Claire, Lake Hallie, and Eau Claire – and I think projects like this will showcase the benefits of making transportation that is accessible to people of any age, income, or ability.”