Don't Pave the Bugline: An Open Letter to the Waukesha County Board
Sussex resident Mark Chapman writes an open letter to the Waukesha County Board urging them to not pave the Bugline trail. Chapman outlines the top five reasons it's a bad idea, followed by some ways to compromise.
April 19, 2012
An Open Letter to Dan Vrakas, Waukesha County Executive
And to the Waukesha County Board
Mr. Paul Decker, Chair
Dear Mr Vrakas, Mr. Decker, and the Waukesha County Board:
There has been considerable discussion and feedback regarding your plans to pave and widen the Bugline trail. I have followed all of this with great interest. As a regular user of this trail (4-6 days a week), I strongly encourage you to leave it as a well-maintained, crushed gravel path. Paving the trail is costly, unnecessary, and – concerns about money aside – not a good idea.
My objections to paving include:
1. Less Natural, Little Benefits
Paving will give the trail a much less natural look with minimal benefit. A paved trail would have a fundamentally different character than the natural feel and beauty of the current Bugline. I would not feel like I was walking or riding in the woods so much as walking on a road if it was paved.
It would even have a different smell. There are also sections of the trail where widening would destroy any overgrowth between the trail and homes and business, making the trail particularly unattractive and damaging much natural habitat.
Use these considerable dollars to expand the trail system and/or improve and lengthen the Bugline rather than pave the existing trail. Not only will this be a significant expense for the sixteen mile stretch, those expenses will continue with maintenance issues for the pavement.
Paving the trail will change its use patterns. Having everything from fast bikers to slow walkers, and kids, and strollers may not be a good thing, and it could be a less desirable and even dangerous mixture. Bike speeds would rise on pavement.
I fear many of us might lose the use of this trail for exercise because of new rules that would likely be imposed to keep the trail "safe" for slower walkers, or because the kind and quantity of traffic on the trail would simply no longer allow for using it for exercise or vigorous riding.
4. The Paved Surface Itself
There are plenty of paved places for walking and riding now, but almost no places in this area for bike trail riding on unpaved surfaces. Many runners and older residents are also particularly concerned with the loss of one of the only trails in the area with a softer surface that is easier on knees and other joints.
5. Public Opinion
If the responses to various online articles in the Sussex Patch and Menomonee Falls Patch are any indication, public opinion is clearly against this proposal. One poll indicated opposition to the proposed paving by a margin of three to one.
Clearly the proposed paving is, at best, a controversial proposal. I can appreciate that the public may not always have the most informed opinions about various county activities, but I have seen nothing from the County Board that addresses the objections raised by the constituents whom they serve. One wonders if the board even considered the concerns of the public before proceeding.
Some on the County Board have suggested that paving the Bugline is a good idea because the paving of other trails has resulted in increased use. While it may be true in some circumstances that increased usage is a result, by this logic, it would seem that all trails should be paved.
"One wonders if the board even considered the concerns of the public before proceeding."
Is there no place for some variety in our trail system? There are many, many options for those who want to walk, run, or bike on a paved surface. There are very few options for those who look for a different surface, or for a different kind of trail experience. The Bugline is unique, and should be preserved.
Some have suggested a compromise proposal in which only a portion of the width of the trail is paved, with the rest left to its current surface. However, while this would address the objections of some walkers and runners, it would not address the other objections above, and I would think that such a path would be even more expensive to maintain and have other issues.
If the county insists on paving, I would suggest a compromise proposal wherein the whole route not be paved, but only short sections that are within the most populated areas. For example, the stretch in Sussex from Main Street on the east side back to Main Street by the fire station on the west side of Sussex, and perhaps a similar stretch near downtown Menomonee Falls.
"Not only is the county prepared to spend significant public money on this project... but the money is being spent for a change that most consider unnecessary and even a downgrade of the trail."
Not only would this minimize the costs of paving and upkeep, but it would provide a paved path near those who would most likely want it (walkers, mothers with strollers, those with handicaps, etc.). It would also keep the rural sections, where most residents don't usually venture to, more natual for current users. However, I still think it best that the trail remain unpaved throughout. Benches and other enhancements could be added to make the trail more attractive to users without paving.
It seems remarkable to me that the county is moving ahead with this in these times of tight budgets when so many are opposed to it. Not only is the county prepared to spend significant public money on this project (federal or county, it is still taxpayers’ dollars), but the money is being spent for a change that most consider unnecessary and even a downgrade of the trail.
It is my hope that the county board would modify these plans and use these dollars for some other, more favorable project or improvement. Build and maintain additional trails instead, save the money for other more pressing needs or reduced taxes.
Editor's Note: The county scheduled an open meeting to answer questions in Sussex on May 10.