Route of the Badger: Planning a 500-Mile Trail Network to Connect Wisconsin Communities
But if a coalition of national and local organizations has its way, the existing system will be just the tip of the iceberg. The groundwork is being laid for an ambitious project, called Route of the Badger. The plan would connect the hundreds of miles of trails into one coherent network.
"The more connections there are, the greater the usage will be," says Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) president, Keith Laughlin. "What we're really looking to do is to increase the percentage of the population that is out being active using these trails."
Wisconsin already has existing bike trails, but a majority of them were built as space was made available or as needed - leaving many disconnected pieces. Laughlin believes that through connecting these existing systems, Wisconsin can go from a good bike-friendly state to a great one that can set the national model.
Dave Cieslewicz, executive director of the Wisconsin Bike Federation, notes that a connected route would not only attract more cyclists, but expand an existing industry. "Bicycling is a $1.5 billion industry in WI, with 14,000 jobs," he says. "So if this were to work anywhere in the United States, it's going to work right here in Southeast Wisconsin."
Laughlin says equity is at the heart of the Route of the Badger, making biking something for every person - whether their from small towns, farms, the suburbs or the cities.
"The more the trails are connected, the greater the benefits will be, but it's important that those benefits are as widely shared among the population as we can," says Laughlin. "(Cycling) knits communities together. If you experience your neighborhood on a bicycle, it's a different experience than sitting in a car...you interact with that neighborhood better."