Oak Leaf Trail Potential Extensions

The Oak Leaf Trail consists of 90+ miles of bike trail that completely circle Milwaukee County. The trail system is about 1/3 off-road trail, 1/3 parkway, and 1/3 municipal streets. However, the Milwaukee County Parks Department is trying to get the trail off of as many municipal streets as possible by constructing off-road trails. They are also constructing new spurs and loops where possible. A few of these potential extensions are shown (in black) on this modified map of the Oak Leaf Trail:

Oak Leaf Trail Potential Extensions

The three potential extensions shown on the map are described in detail below:

68th Street Extension

This project calls for a new off-road trail between Loomis Road and Drexel Avenue along the Root River, to replace the 68th Street portion of the trail. About two miles of municipal street will be replaced by this new off-road trail. Here are the conceptual plans, acquired in February 2003:

Root River Parkway Loomis to Rawson - Sheet 1

Root River Parkway Loomis to Rawson - Sheet 2

The project schedule as of January 2004:

  • December 2003: Received Federal CMAQ Grant
  • Fall 2004: Planning/Engineering
  • Spring 2005: Construction
  • Fall 2005: Completion

    This new off-road trail will be a benefit to users in a few ways. One, the off-road trail will be much more casual and scenic than 68th Street. Two, 68th Street has a large hill between Rawson Avenue and Drexel Avenue, while the proposed trail will be fairly level, along the Root River. Three, the new segment will be safer, as 68th Street is narrow, and combined with the hills, is also one of the more dangerous segments of the Oak Leaf Trail.

    Update: (3-17-04) This Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article states that the trail construction may be moved up to 2004. The article also describes the funding for the trail and has a map.

    Update: (9-2-04) Visit the JOLT Project (Joining the Oak Leaf Trail) website for details about the financing and citizen support for this trail extension.

    Update: (5-19-09) The trail was constructed in 2007 or 2008 and is open.

    Kohl Park Extension

    Tom Forbes, formerly of the Milwaukee County Parks Department, told me about this potential extension on visit to the Parks Department on February 27, 2003. They just acquired a property near the county line just to the west of Kohl Park. This will enable Milwaukee County to route a trail north from Bradley and 91st Street to near the county line, and then east through Kohl Park. The Parks Department would like to somehow connect this path back to the main Oak Leaf Trail around Brown Deer Park, but how that would happen is unclear at this time. There is no timetable or funding for this project.

    Root River Extension

    Tom Forbes also told me about the Parks Department's long-term plan to create an off-road trail along the Root River in southern Milwaukee County. No definite plans have been made yet, but the eastern mile or so may be constructed in 2003. The North Shore Railroad right-of-way project (shown in brown) was started in 2002 and will finish in 2003. Mr. Forbes indicated that there are some excess funds from that project still available, and they may be applied to the eastern section of the Root River Parkway.

    Update: (1-13-04) Jim Ciha, a Landscape Architect with the Parks Department, told me this via an email: "The Root River Trail extension will begin from the end of the North Shore at County Line Road and will continue west on County Line Road to South Nicholson Avenue. There it will pick up the Root River Parkway and continue west as an off road segment of the Oak Leaf Trail. Our preliminary plan for this segment showed the trail ending at Howell Avenue. The plan showed three connections into the subdivisions north of the parkway. The trail when completed to Howell will be approximately 1.8 miles in length. We are in the process of determining how much of this route we will be able to complete with the $$ currently available in the budget. We anticipate beginning construction in Spring of 2004 and completing it by August."

    Update: (10-30-04) The off-road segment of trail between Nicholson and Howell has been cleared and earthwork has begun. It looks like the trail will have to be finished in spring 2005.

    Update: (5-19-09) The trail was constructed and is open.

    Milwaukee County Parks Department Upheavals

    Since I visited the Milwaukee County Parks Department, there has been some major upheaval. On August 19, 2003, the top five officials in the Parks Department were released, including Tom Forbes. I will try to get a new contact there so I can get more valuable information for this site.

    On November 13, 2003, Sue Black was hired as the new Parks Superintendent. In the article, she mentions "finishing the Oak Leaf Trail system" as one of her areas of interest. Hopefully this will mean a faster pace of construction in the coming years. I'll be trying to find out as much as possible about what finishing the trail means to her.

    Other Oak Leaf Trail Improvements

    In 2004 the Beloit Road bridge over the Root River was replaced. The bridge was raised and lengthened, so it will now accomodate the Oak Leaf Trail running underneath it. This will mean trail users won't have to cross busy Beloit Road. Unfortunately, it does not look like the bridge contract included actually constructing the links from the existing trail to the bridge crossing.

    Update: (11-1-04) Bill Waldron, a Natural Resources Specialist with the Parks Department, told me this via an email: "You were correct in your assessment that the new Beloit Road bridge over the Root River accommodates a below-grade bike trail crossing. You were also correct in assuming that the bridge construction contract did not include money to construct the approximately 700' of new trail required to route people from the main part of the trail to the bridge. Those funds were not available when the bridge contract was awarded. The Parks Department applied for a federal transportation grant last spring to have that work done but recently learned that that request has been denied. The Parks Department will continue to look for ways to complete the project. In the meantime, the at-grade crossing is scheduled to be reconstructed as a part of the bridge/roadway work."

    Update: (5-19-09) The trail connections were constructed in 2007. The Beloit Road bridge underpass is open.