The Kegel-Alpha trails are a four-mile loop of off-road trails located in Mangan Woods in Franklin. Historically they had been used as an equestrian trail, but 15 years ago, they became the first approved mountain bike trails in Milwaukee county. They are one of only a few places within the county where mountain biking is explicitly allowed, and they predates most of their current neighbors.
However, those neighbors are attempting to put a stop to that with an indefinite moratorium on mountain biking via an overly broad piece of anti-bike legislation, which would have an effect on activities across the entire Milwaukee County Park system. This ordinance would add the underlined:
(1) No person shall ride a bicycle upon the lawns, walks or foot trails in the parks or parkways except in areas designated for such use by the director of the department of parks, recreation, and culture and approved by the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors.
Essentially it would require an additional layer of bureaucracy when it comes to any bicycle use (and bicycle use only) in any Milwaukee County park, as well as require any cycling activity that has already been signed off by the specialists in Milwaukee County Parks to be approved again by the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors.
Approval of all other non-cycling activity would continue to be left to the discretion of the Milwaukee County Parks.
As a result, this would make it more difficult and time consuming for event planners to coordinate trail maintenance, develop new trails in other parts of the city, organize group biking events like mountain bike and cyclocross races, or organize safe youth cycling lessons on county grounds. It takes the coordination of park use out of the hands of knowledgeable specialists who are on the ground every day and turn each request into a political process.
The problems began when neighbors in Franklin levied a complaint against a partnership between Milwaukee County Parks and the Metro Mountain Bikers Association, who were working together to develop new trails in Mangan Woods to redirect parts of the existing system around low-lying, frequently flooded areas. These changes would allow the trails to be open for longer periods of time throughout the year.
"Since these are one-way trails, when any part of the trail is closed, the whole loop is closed," said Marty Weigel, who is the founder of Metro Mountain Bikers, and mountain bike representative of Milwaukee County Trails council (and alderman of West Allis).
Thus, Supervisor John Weishan presented a resolution at a Board of Supervisors meeting on March 16, 2021, suggesting that any cycling activity on county park grounds also be approved by the Board of Supervisors.
The Kegel-Alpha Trail's popularity has varied over time, but has waned more recently due to the constant closures and those ever-worsening drainage issues (some particularly rainy years suffered full closures entirely) as well as removal of land due to the development of The Rock Sports Complex that borders the trails on the eastern side.
But mountain biking, and indeed cycling in general, has benefited from a boom in participation during the pandemic thanks to the relative safety of the well-spaced, outdoor nature of the activity, and this has subsequently increased the ridership on the trail.
Neighbors now fear a greater increase in ridership and event coordination if the trails are improved or expanded. They also do not want the trails to be redirected closer to their private property line (even as they store their own private property and even build private structures inside park boundaries). One commenter at the meeting suggested that the distance should be scaled even further because the large size of their properties makes 50 feet feel closer than in more densely-populated areas.
"In downtown Milwaukee, fifty feet is far because that's the size of your lot," said Dana Gindt at the Board of Supervisors meeting, "but some of these lots are one-acre lots, so 50 feet coming close to our lot lines is unsettling to us, (because) we're not used to that."
Metro Mountain Bikers, the group responsible for trail development, is a non-profit volunteer group which was established in 1994 to promote and protect environmentally-friendly mountain biking in the Milwaukee area. But while their moniker singularly embraces mountain biking, their shared-use approach also benefits dog-walkers, trail runners, cross country skiers and snow boarders.
"We install signage and maintain all of these multi-use trails at no cost to the taxpayer," noted Weigel at the Board of Supervisors meeting.
Metro has worked diligently with Milwaukee County Parks over the years to build more than 20 miles of trails for Milwaukee County. They also have a good reputation for environment-first trail development, including mowing, invasive species weed-outs, garbage clean-ups and downed tree removal – even going so far as to use hand tools and non-gas-powered chainsaws.
The effort to re-develop and re-route the current trails has been a methodical process, with a year-long study of how best to protect the integrity of the woods, protect native plant species, avoid erosion, decrease ride-arounds (where riders leave the trail to avoid mud) and create clearer signage to prevent conflicts from riders entering walker-only trails.
According to a post from the Wisconsin Bike Fed, "Prior to trail development, Metro works closely with parks staff to assess potential sites in terms of need, suitability and impact on the environment. Potential sites are walked several times to determine the most appropriate trail placement that considers impact on flora and potential for erosion. It usually takes two years or more from the concept phase to the point that ground work begins."
"The relationship between Metro and the County Parks really is the ideal example of what you want to see from private groups working with the city to improve the community and save taxpayers money," Kirsten Finn, executive director of the Wisconsin Bike Fed, told me in a call.
What can you do?
Members of the Committee on Parks are currently undecided on whether or not to pass the legislation on to the County Board of Supervisors, but they will be making that decision on Tuesday, April 13, 2021.
So, if you want to see more events, fewer restrictions on cycling and continuted support of a specialist-managed trail development system with an excellent 15-year track record, you can contact members of the committee below:
Jason McDowell grew up in central Iowa and moved to Milwaukee in 2000 to attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.
In 2006 he began working with OnMilwaukee as an advertising designer, but has since taken on a variety of rolls as the Creative Director, tackling all kinds of design problems, from digital to print, advertising to branding, icons to programming.
In 2016 he picked up the 414 Digital Star of the Year award.
Most other times he can be found racing bicycles, playing board games, or petting dogs.