PRESS EDITORIAL: The enduring rewards of a railroad legacy

A transportation initiative that was brilliant in its efficiency and kindness to the environment failed a few decades after it was conceived more than a century ago, yet it continues to contribute to the good life in Ozaukee County.
    In the first half of the 20th century, the Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Co. operated trains powered by electricity on the interurban railway from Milwaukee to the communities of Ozaukee County and points north.
    The railway provided fast, convenient public transit for Ozaukee County residents until its appeal faltered in competition with the burgeoning access to affordable automobiles and improved highways.
    That the interurban train service was replaced by stressful commuting on crowded highways in vehicles emitting carbon gases into an overheated atmosphere can be rued as a step backward by society, but that regret is balanced by the legacy left by the electric railway. That legacy is the Ozaukee Interurban Trail.
    The trail that runs for 30 miles from one end of Ozaukee County to the other is a resource of incalculable value to the eight communities through which its passes as well as the rest of the county. And it would not exist were it not for the right-of-way of the old interurban railway on which it was built.
    Shorn of train tracks and paved with asphalt, the trail takes walkers, runners, bikers, roller-bladers and skiers on a tour of the urban, suburban and rural reaches of the county. Many miles of the trail offer natural beauty and opportunities for bird watching and wildlife viewing. It’s an aesthetic treasure for county residents that also adds value as a tourist attraction and an aid to the preservation of valuable natural areas.
    The trail owes its existence, dating to 2002, to visionary individuals and a number of organizations and government agencies, but its guiding force has been the Ozaukee County government and its Department of Planning and Parks. The trail remains a work in progress, and the county is working on an important improvement.
    As it enters Port Washington from the southwest, the trail is interrupted in an industrial area along Spring Street and Oakland Avenue. The plan is to extend the trail through that area and under the Union Pacific tracks by means of a tunnel, an upgrade that will make the trip through Port by the hundreds of cyclists who travel the trail on a typical summer day safer and more enjoyable.
    Farther into the city, Port Washington can claim the stretch between Jackson Street and Hales Trail as one of the most beautiful of the entire Interurban Trail. Heavily wooded, insulated from the sounds of the city, populated by deer and other wildlife, graced with birdsong and bird sightings—and a stream gurgling alongside of it for good measure—the trail here is a nature walk (or nature run or nature bike ride) that has been enhanced by the care given it by the city’s Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments, which includes the addition of auxiliary walking paths and sylvan rest areas.
    While municipalities contribute some tax-supported services to trail maintenance, grants, contributions and fundraising efforts have paid for most of its development and will be needed to complete the planned improvements.
    It is fitting that a boost for that bike-trail need will be coming on Saturday from a group that includes some of the fittest, most dedicated bike-rider athletes you’ll find anywhere—Port Washington’s Be3 fitness group. Proceeds from Be3’s Land Regatta walk/run and beer garden will go toward the new trail connection and tunnel.
    The fundraisers will be held in Upper Lake Park, very near the Ozaukee Interurban Trail, that marvelous offspring of a long-departed feature of transportation history.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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