By Daniel Kramer
BROWN COUNTY – When Peter Flucke moved to Green Bay from the Twin Cities area in 1993, he remembers there were no trails in the Green Bay area.
“Oh my gosh,” he said, “you’ve got the bay and the Fox River and these old abandoned rail lines and there were no trails.”
Flucke, now a member of the Friends of the Fox River Trail (Friends FRT), recalls the backlash when plans to convert the former railroad tracks to a recreational trail through the federal Rails to Trails program were announced.
“People were really afraid,” he remembers. “They thought property values would go down, there would be trash, there would be assaults and my experience as a park ranger and police officer told me just the opposite. These people were legitimately afraid that bad bad things were going to happen.”
Flucke recalls that one woman was afraid people would use the trail to drive their car up from Chicago and steal her TV out of the back of her house.
Fast forward more than two decades and a million users, and now Friends FRT has launched a $300,000 capital campaign to repave the 22-year-old FRT and expand the pavement 3.4 miles into Greenleaf.
They hope to start construction in 2023.
Due to the Friends’ efforts thus far, the group has been selected for the Green Bay Packers’ Give Back campaign, which will match all public donations up to $50,000.
Friends of the FRT is a non-profit organization dedicated to advocating and helping with maintenance, upkeep, preservation and improvement of the FRT, one of the most heavily used recreational trails in the state.
In addition to the Friends FRT’s fundraising efforts, Brown County Parks has been awarded an $840,000 grant from the Green Bay Metropolitan Planning Organization and other funding in the amount of $510,180.
These dollars will provide new asphalt on the trail from the intersection of Porlier and Adams streets in Green Bay to Lasee Road in the Town of Rockland.
Paving makes the difference
Brown County Parks Director Matt Kriese noted that funding from the American Rescue Fund Act would also contribute to the project.
“The FRT is one of the regional trails that truly connects communities. Our users don’t necessarily see those boundaries, but it meets multiple community needs: health and wellness, social equity goals, it’s a great place to meet for a first date or to meet friends for a walk,” he said.
“The other neat thing is this trail is one of, arguably, the busiest in Wisconsin, and paving has to do with that — it’s easier to ride your bike or rollerblade. That’s why we’re happy to get this funding — so it will be in place for another 20 years,” Kriese said.
Kriese said the county started plowing the trail in winter four years ago, so it’s a four-season trail.
South of Heritage Road, people can snow bike or snowshoe, and south of Greenleaf it’s a snowmobile trail.
“We do know that the reason people do relocate to a city or to a county is parks,” Kriese said. “Parks are in the top five reasons to relocate — green space and recreational opportunities. Realtors are advertising the trail in their listings, and that speaks volumes. The trail is here to stay, and everybody overall is very pleased with what it offers the community.”
Besides repaving the FRT and expanding the pavement into Greenleaf, the project will include the replacement of aging culverts, the addition of some amenities and a new parking lot in the rural portion of the trail.
Use of the trail is free for walkers, but if you’re riding a bicycle, there is a vehicular use fee.
Day use for bicyclists is $5 and you can also buy an annual pass for $25.
“The daily and annual fees help pay for the upkeep of the trail,” Fluke says.
For more information or to support the Friends FRT fundraising efforts, visit friendsfrt.org.