Q: With the new Verona Area High School being built along a portion of the Military Ridge State Trail, several people have asked the Press and others on social media why that project did not include paving of the trail.
A: The answer is complicated, but it mostly revolves around snowmobiles and the fact that the entire 40-mile trail – from the border of Fitchburg to Dodgeville – is owned by the state Department of Natural Resources.
Because snowmobile drivers use the trails in the winter, they do not want it to be paved, because the purpose of paving trails is to allow them to be plowed, which would make them useless for snowmobiling. Instead, the trail, like many others, uses limestone gravel, which some walkers and runners prefer but is not ideal for bicycling.
The city has asked to pave at least part of the trail for many years and has been rejected every time. The Press asked city staff to explain the situation, and community development specialist Katherine Holt listed off several challenges, including ensuring snowmobilers have either public or accessible land that would allow them to access gas locations and maintaining year-round access for walkers or bicyclists.
“The new high school has created a significant change for the trail and the city, which is confirmed by the DNR,” Holt wrote. “This is the only reason the DNR is entertaining paving the trail.”
Over the past year, Holt explained, city staff has met several times with representatives from the DNR, the Verona Area School District and the Association of Wisconsin Snowmobile Clubs to discuss paving the trail. While there is room for snowmobiles to travel from the trail to the Kwik Trip that’s being built nearby, there are problems with land ownership, slopes, parking and rules regarding use of school property, including bans on alcohol, weapons and smoking.
There is hope, however, as Holt pointed out several compromises that have already been worked out.
One is the city’s agreement to stop paving at Wildcat Way, rather than to the city limits. There have also been discussions awaiting approval from the respective parties on use of parking, loading, access easements, city maintenance of the trail and agreements by snowmobilers to follow rules regarding where they can drive and school rules whenever on school property.