February 2023 — The partnership between Dane and Sauk Counties took another step closer to connecting the Great Sauk State Trail with the Walking Iron State Trail, in Dane County, when MSA Professional Services, Inc. and Westbrook Associates were awarded the contract, late last year, to finalize the engineering plans for and construct the year-round multi-use Wisconsin River Recreational Bridge.
Construction of the bridge is expected to begin in early 2024 with completion late that year.
The first step was in 2019 when the partners announced plans to conduct a feasibility study of building a bridge over the Wisconsin River to connect the Great Sauk State Trail with the Walking Iron State Trail. Walking Iron State Trail, as now envisioned, is the seven-mile trail corridor from the Wisconsin River crossing site to the Village of Mazomanie.
The study explored design and cost options for a 500-foot bridge for pedestrian, bicycle, and snowmobile use in the existing rail corridor. The location is the former site of the 100-year-old Sauk City rail bridge demolished in 2018 after years of disuse and failure of a support pier during spring floods.
This connection will provide a recreational, scenic gateway over the Wisconsin River and make it possible to one day hop on a bicycle in Dane County and pedal all the way to Devils Lake State Park and even farther as the Great Sauk State Trail is eventually extended to Reedsburg.
The next step was the announcement, in October, 2021, that each county had committed $2 million to the project’s preparation and planning work. At that time, Marty Krueger, Chair of the Great Sauk Trail Commission stated, “We are one step closer to connecting the two counties’ trail systems and creating a world-class destination.”
And, Christopher Long, then Board Chairperson of Gateway to The Driftless Inc., added, “Outdoor recreation, quality of life, and proximity to metropolitan areas have been shown to be key factors in attracting new residents, visitors, and employees to small communities. As our communities look beyond the pandemic and to the future again, we thank our county partners for their strong commitment to making this vision a reality,”
Then, in late December, 2022 Representative Mark Pocan (D – Black Earth) announced that the federal Omnibus Spending Bill includes $2 million for the bridge project. These federal dollars along with the $4 million commitment from the two counties go a long way toward funding the projected $10 million cost of the bridge when completed.
A workgroup committee consisting of county and local government officials, non-profit groups, including Gateway to The Driftless, and state agencies has been formed to explore the opportunities to raise the remaining funds.
In the words of Dane County Executive, Joe Parisi, “When complete, this connection will draw people of all ages outdoors to enjoy the scenic beauty of south central Wisconsin and the Wisconsin River.”
Read the Wisconsin State Journal story
Read the UW-Extension economic impact study