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Carving New Trails at Peninsula State Park

A trail that’s at least 12 years in the making could soon be coming to Peninsula State Park. 

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has signed off on the addition of 15-25 miles of purpose-built, low-impact, off-road bike trails in the park, and it didn’t take long for people to line up to get behind the project. 

“There is a lot of enthusiasm out there for this,” said Brian Fitzgerald, who has been working on improving and expanding single-track trails in the park in earnest since 2010. He has worked through the Friends of Peninsula State Park to raise more than $40,000 to fund a design for 15-25 miles of purpose-built trails. 

That will start with an assessment of the existing trails, then a study of where and how to design miles of new trails. Fitzgerald said a firm to design the trails should be chosen by the end of April, and the design should be completed within a couple of months. 

“We’ve received bids from seven firms, including some of the best in the country,” he said. “People know Peninsula State Park and Door County, and they seem to want to be a part of this.”

After the design is complete, it will go through environmental and DNR review, and once it’s finally approved, Fitzgerald and the Friends group will start fundraising for the buildout.

Brian Fitzgerald rides the existing off-road trails at Peninsula State Park. Very little of the trail mileage in the park is purpose built and much of it doubles as cross-country ski trails in winter. Photos by Myles Dannhausen Jr.

Park superintendent Eric Hyde said the trails grew out of the 2018 master plan, which called for a review of the overall trail system. 

“Off-road bike trails are definitely a need here in the park,” he said. “We have an internal team that worked on the plan; then different departments at the DNR reviewed it; and now it’s approved and ready to move into designing it.”

One of the advantages of adding the bike trails is the low-impact nature of single-track construction. Many visitors to Peninsula State Park are familiar with the Sunset Bike Path, a hard-pack path made of crushed limestone, but off-road paths are much lower profile. 

“We probably won’t need to remove a single tree to build this,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re not looking to do an elaborate buildout, but to do what fits in the property.”

“To a lot of people, it might look like deer or wildlife paths,” Hyde said. “There could be some of the rock features, but we’re looking to keep it pretty natural here, with low maintenance in mind.”

There is also potential for a path similar to the Sunset Path, or even a paved path, along Highway 42 between Ephraim and Fish Creek. The Highway 42 corridor trail is a much more ambitious project that the park is looking to partner with the Town of Gibraltar and Village of Ephraim to construct. Hyde estimates that path would cost more than a million dollars to construct just with crushed limestone. 

Photo by Myles Dannhausen Jr.

The last time Peninsula State Park underwent trail planning, off-road biking was barely a blip on the radar. Now it’s a significant user group with all-season enthusiasm, thanks to the growth of the fat-tire bike scene. 

“We’ve been working on creating purpose-built trails for 12 years,” said Fitzgerald, who is also an avid road cyclist and skier. “It’s a long-overdue conversation. We’re 20-30 years behind a lot of other park properties in the Midwest. For the most part, we have mountain-bike trails on ski trails, which isn’t good for either user group.”

Once the design has been completed and improved, Fitzgerald expects the trails to cost $50,000-$75,000 per mile to construct. That’s at least $750,000 in donations and grants needed to build 15 miles of trails, but after seeing the enthusiasm for the design stage, Fitzgerald is confident he’ll be able to raise the funds through donations and grants. Once construction begins, the buildout could be completed within a year. 

To learn more about the effort or find out how to donate to building the trails, contact Brian Fitzgerald at [email protected].

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