The unveiling of Toole Design’s Draft Plan review regarding the Stower Seven Lakes State Trail (SSLST) was slated to take place at the Environmental Committee meeting Jan. 22. Toole Design has rescheduled for Feb. 12, but their review was made available for viewing on Polk County’s website.
At the June 18, 2019, meeting of the Polk County board of supervisors, Resolution 25-19 was adopted to authorize the continuation of the trail master planning process for the SSLST. In September 2019, Toole Design was hired as a consultant to assist county staff in the development of this master plan.
According to Toole Design’s Draft Plan Review, the company was interested in working in Polk County because they had a desire to work in a rural area of Wisconsin, they were motivated by the snowmobile/equestrian design challenge, they were eager to plan for many modes on a trail and they wanted to support efforts to build upon Polk County’s leadership in trail-related economic development. The anticipated timeline for development of a draft master plan was from September until the end of November 2019.
On Oct. 22, 2019, Polk County, in cooperation with Toole Design, invited the public to provide their thoughts and opinions on the trail during an event held at the Amery Community Center. There, an update on the trail planning process, summary of public engagement so far, and trail funding opportunities and limitations were provided.
On Oct. 22, 2019, key stakeholder groups including The Friends of the SSLST, Polk County Snowmobile Council, local elected officials around the trail corridor, and economic development interests were given a chance to provide their input on the trail at individual meetings with the trail planning consultant.
According to Toole Design’s report, the community vision statement was, “In 2040, the Stower Seven Lakes State Trail will be a quiet, beautiful, natural and safe corridor, with nonmotorized and multiuse recreation opportunities available.”
Toole Design says key findings during the community engagement process were that there is a strong interest in trail-based recreation in Polk County and the public is roughly divided on the possibilities of adding snowmobilers and horseback riders to the SSLST. Nonmotorized users are concerned about safety, noise, a damaged trail surface and displacement. Snowmobilers and equestrians are concerned about safety, economic development, sharing and network connectivity.
Documents reviewed by Toole Design in the drafting of their plan included: the Wisconsin statewide comprehensive outdoor recreation plan (SCORP); the WDNR design standards handbook; Minnesota DNR trail planning, design and development guidelines; equestrian design guidebook for trails, trailheads and campgrounds and economic impacts of the Wisconsin state park system.
According to Toole Research, their summary of research found bicycling and walking are the primary activities in demand. Some users are effectively discouraged from participating based on the presence of other users. Northwest Wisconsin county park managers feel there is a growing demand for fat tire biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing. Per user, snowmobilers spend more than other user types.
Toole Design shared the overarching goal is to offer as many recreational opportunities as possible while maintaining each participant’s ability to successfully engage in their activity.
A proposed solution sees snowmobiles being allowed on a portion of the corridor. With some sections being shared with current nonmotorized users, another area where snowmobiles would use the shoulder of the trail and also an additional area where a separate trail would exist.
Ultimately, the snowmobile recommendation in the draft says, “Consider three snowmobile alternatives. Seek more input from the community, particularly Native Americans, due to important archaeological sites.”
When it comes to horseback riding on the trail, the Toole Design draft compromise solution encourages equestrians to be allowed on a portion of the corridor on separate trails.
Recommendations for bicycle and cross-country skiers suggested the addition of one walk-in camping area to attract new users and up to two skier warming shelters, should snowmobiles not be allowed on the trail.
So what now? According to Toole Design, the next steps are to issue draft plan for public comment, which is currently available at: https://www.co.polk.wi.us/fpt_ssltmp.
They suggest also gathering additional input on alternatives, consulting with the Native American community and then to revising the plan to send to the WDNR for review.