A Letter to Melissa Vanlandut, Natural Resources Program Manager, Department of Natural Resources
Friends of Stower Seven Lakes Trail
August 10, 2020
Natural Resources Program Manager
Department of Natural Resources
PO Box 7921
Madison, WI 53707-7921
RE: 2020 STOWER MASTER PLAN COMMENTS
Friends of Stower Seven Lakes State Trail has provided a suite of services to the State since the Stower Seven Lakes State Trail was developed as a public amenity:
• Year-round trail/property maintenance (grading, brushing, grooming, mowing, raking…).
• All work is completed with volunteer labor and donations.
• Over 2,000 hours of volunteer labor donated annually.
• Over $4,000 worth of donated equipment (at the anemic volunteer rates) donated annually.
• Four seasons of trail events serve over 1,000 participants annually.
• Some major trail repair projects have been completed entirely with volunteer labor and donations.
• Trail enhancement projects: benches, kiosks, gardens, interpretive signs, etc.
• Maintained and plowed parking lots.
• Purchased equipment specific to maintaining this trail (custom made grader, groomer, packer, etc.).
• Collected $24,700 in State Trail Passes so far.
• If done by professionals this list of services is easily worth $30,000 annually plus equipment and
For the past ten years, the Friends have been a rock-solid asset to this trail. However, the same cannot be said for Polk County. Polk County failed its management responsibilities as described in the trail MOU from the beginning. Forcing the county to develop a plan in the first place was its own battle. In the seventeen years since Polk County has been unable to develop a coherent Master Plan for the Stower:
• The county’s failed 2005 plan called for a 20-foot wide “dual trail.”
The corridor topography and multi-million dollar price tag made this plan unrealistic.
• The county’s failed 2018 plan eliminated all existing uses from the developed trail except wheelchairs in favor of a year-round motor-sport trail.
Yep, wheelchairs and motor-sports. Another parallel trail was suggested for non-motorized uses but since there isn’t enough room in the corridor it was an empty proposal. Furthermore this plan violated the conditions of the trail development grant.
The county’s 2020 plan is unsafe, riddled with inconsistencies, and doesn’t even attempt to explain how the plan could be implemented. See attached for details.
Polk County has also been delinquent in its responsibilities for two other State Trails: The Gandy Dancer State Trail and the Cattail State Trail.
• Basic maintenance on the Gandy Dancer State Trail has been underwhelming at best. The trail went 25 years without being graded. Herculean efforts by a lone Polk County staff person in 2019 and a few volunteers in 2020 ironed out 25 miles of washboard and reclaimed at least five acres of trail that was covered with vegetation and detritus.
• Polk County’s 2016 “amendment” to the the Gandy Dancer Master Plan (1989) was antithetical to the original comprehensive trail plan. It was in actuality a plan rewrite that made no attempt to follow the spirit of the MOU or NR44.
• The Cattail State Trail (opened in 2000?) has no plan. The “completed plan” on file with the DNR is titled Feasibility Study and Environmental Assessment of 3 Railroad Purchases (1999).
• Decades of neglect is evident throughout the Cattail corridor. The Cattail is a poster child for NR45 violations.
The DNR is in a tight spot as it reviews the Stower Seven Lakes State Trail Master Plan (2020) only because Polk County has politicized trail planning and management for decades. Unfortunately things are about to get even more contentious because the county is laying the groundwork for a Gandy Dancer master plan rewrite. The DNR can avoid more of the same from Polk County in two ways:
1. Reestablish the department’s right to plan for the responsible use and development of its own properties; or,
2. Terminate the trail MOUs with Polk County and work with another trail partner.
Whatever the outcome the Friends will continue to work for the DNR by maintaining, promoting, and improving the Stower. We have the proven capacity and experience to do the job. In addition the Friends have already provided resources to our sister organization, Friends of Gandy Dancer State Trail, so that trail too will receive the attention it deserves as part of the Aldo Leopold Legacy Trail System.
Let’s set things right.
President, Friends of Stower Seven Lakes State Trail
PS. “Non-consumptive trail users are not organized.” Maybe. But consider that there is no way to organize rural kids who are learning to ride a bike and have no safe place to ride except places like the Stower. Public lands and trails are for all people even those who are not yet born. It is our collective responsibility to manage public lands and trails so that they can be accessed by people of all ages and all abilities into perpetuity. None of us should be held responsible for advocating against reckless use of public lands.
Inconsistencies and issues with the 2020 Stower Seven Lakes State Trail Master Plan From the Plan Objectives on Page 6:
“Provide for recreational opportunities that promotes the health and safety of the community.”
“Cooperate with landowners and communities through which the trail passes.”
“Preserve the environmental integrity of the trail”
The proposed additions do not follow these objectives.
From the Conclusion on Page 7:
“There are a number of necessary changes and updates that will need to be completed on the trail before
these additional uses are permitted.”
What are those changes and updates? What will the cost be? The MOU with DNR states the “Plan must include a list of anticipated support facilities (e.g. restrooms, parking lots) and must include the projected development costs.”
Allowed uses on Page 10:
“Polk County Board of Supervisors chose to add snowmobiling and horseback riding to the entire trail along with maintaining the existing uses such as walking/running, biking, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing”
If the county is maintaining existing uses, will the county groom the trail for cross country skiing? If not then they are not maintaining existing uses. From the Toole Design Analysis, chosen alternative SA3 states “Skiers and bicyclists will be displaced.”
Operation and Maintenance on Page 10:
“The trail will be maintained with safety as a priority.”
If safety is a priority and they are maintaining all existing uses, are they going to separate the uses? How does the county propose to keep snowmobiles and skiers/snowshoers separate? Same for biking and horseback riders. From the Toole Design Analysis, chosen alternatives SA3 and EA2 both state “safety is low.”
Summer Maintenance and Grooming on Page 12:
Plan does not address who will be doing summer maintenance. The 2018 plan review by the DNR stated “Plan should identify elements of maintenance by partners and any/all agreements to this effect.”
Page 15, Speed limits: Who will be enforcing speed limits on snowmobiles? County has committed zero dollars to enforcement. It is likely that the County has never routinely patrolled any of the State Trails it manages.
Future Improvements on Page 16:
“As is, the trail is suitable for the addition of snowmobiles and horses. Future trail infrastructure improvements and modifications may be explored and implemented.”
The WI SCORP clearly states what is required for a horse trail, including parking lots, water facilities, hitching posts, manure disposal equipment, etc. None of these requirements are addressed in the plan.
In Appendix A – Community Engagement Report, page A-3 states:
“Analysis of open ended comments reveal that a majority of opinions expressed support for adding snowmobilers and horseback riders.”
This is a false statement. Pages A-19 & 20 indicates that the written comments in 2018 were 197 to 33 in favor of keeping the trail as is. Page A-39 indicates the written comments in 2020 were 120 to 13 in favor of keeping the trail as is.
Appendix B – WI SCORP
SCORP states that horses and bikes are not compatible, and that skiers and snowmobiles are not compatible.
Page B-4 lists the facilities needed for horses do not currently exist. What is the county’s plan for adding the needed facilities and what is the proposed cost? Pages B-6 & 7 cover parking requirements.
Page B-10 lists the lessons learned from the SCORP:
Current use and future demand is highest for bicycling and walking.
The proposed uses are incompatible.
“The overarching goal is to offer as many recreational opportunities as possible while maintaining each
participant’s ability to successfully engage in their activity.”
None of these lessons are followed or addressed in the plan.
Appendix C – Alternatives Analysis
Page C-2 states:
“If and when non-status quo alternatives are recommended, additional resources for engineering, construction and/or maintenance will need to be identified before implementation occurs.”
Again, what needs to be done and how much will it cost?
On Page C-3, chosen Alternative SA3, states:
“Snomobilers and non-motorized users are incompatible.” And “design guidance from the Wisconsin DNR and Minnesota DNR does not generally support the idea of shared use between motorized and non-motorized modes in winter”
This is the alternative the county accepted, but the safety issues are not addressed in the plan.
On Page C-15, chosen Alternative EA2, states: “Maintenance of the trail would require additional resources due to trail surface damage by horse hooves” and “the SCORP finds that equestrians are generally non-compatible with bicyclists” and “Alternative EA2 is likely to pose significant safety challenges.”
This is the alternative the county accepted, but the safety concerns and added maintenance costs are not addressed by the plan.
Appendix F is County Resolution No. 20-20, adopting this Master Plan. Under “Fiscal and Legal Impact,” it states:
“No fiscal impact.”
Adopting this plan will have major fiscal impact.
How You Can Help Defend Our Trails Against ATV Assault
By Kassandra Huffman
After the master draft plan for Southwest Savanna Ecological Landscape gets released to the public, additional time remains for public comment. No matter the details of the draft plan, we need to continue to email Savannah and give our input.
If the draft plan favors our position, we still need to remain diligent on having our voices heard. The Natural Resources Board will review the draft plan and additional public input to make a final decision. This draft plan applies directly to the Southwest Savanna Ecological Landscape. This includes the Sugar River and Badger State Bike Trail. Please remember this when sending emails to the DNR.
When advocating to prevent ATVs from gaining access to bike trails, stay focused on the critical issues important to our cause. Generalized opinions in your email showing an anti-ATV point of view, while understandable, only hurts our cause. It casts a negative light on what truly matters.
ATVs have access to DNR trails across the state. They won’t disappear. We need to show we understand this, but that bike trails cannot provide any place for them.
If you wish immediate notification about updates on the draft plan, subscribe to receive email updates using this link:
Keep sending your emails and tell trail supporters to do the same. We need to continue to have a strong voice and advocate for the trails, wildlife, nature, and trail users until the final decision is made.
For the original story, click on the following link: