Contact(s): Jeff Pennucci, Northwest DNR park and recreation leader, 715-365-8949
MANITOWISH WATERS, Wis. - Visitors to the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest will be able to bike and hike an expanded trail system through the forest thanks to a donation that will add trails to the popular Heart of Vilas County Bike Trail System.
The State Natural Resources Board in January approved a proposal and a donation of time and materials worth approximately $1.15 million from Manitowish Waters Bike Trail Inc. for the cost of construction of the new trail, which will add approximately 4 miles of new paved bike trails, including a bridge over the Manitowish River.
Currently, the Heart of Vilas Bike Trail system includes more than 45 miles of paved trails that connect St. Germain, Sayner, Boulder Junction and Manitowish Waters, portions of which wind through the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest. About 3 miles of the new trail will go through state forest property.
The new trail will connect to a segment recently constructed by the Town of Mercer in Iron County to the north, expanding the overall Heart of Vilas network significantly. This donation will also provide a side loop connection to amenities such as restrooms, parking, and a bicycle repair station at the Manitowish Waters Chamber of Commerce building.
"This donation will provide additional recreational opportunities and connect a new municipality into the Heart of Vilas Bike Trail system," said Sara Pearson, the new NH-AL recreation superintendent. "The overall trail system is very popular and is supported by local municipalities and partners."
The Department of Natural Resources held a public hearing on the water permit for the proposed bridge Jan. 29 and accepted comments through Feb. 8. After environmental reviews for wetlands and rare species, and review of public comments, department staff made a determination on Feb. 28 that the permit for the bridge should be approved with conditions to protect water quality and habitat. Expansion of the trail system had previously been approved in a 2017 amendment to the forest's master plan.
The overall project will comply with all necessary permitting and construction codes. As part of the bridge permitting requirements, the bridge location had to be moved closer to State Highway 51 to comply with a recent Vilas County zoning ordinance for the Rest Lake Dam floodplain along the Manitowish River corridor. The bridge will be located west of Highway 51 upstream from Benson Lake.
Construction is expected to begin in the mid-March in order to comply with permit restrictions to minimize incidental site impacts.
Manitowish Waters Bike Trail Incorporated will be responsible for all future maintenance and operation of the trail, which will be open to the general public for hiking and biking.