Construction on the new Grandad Bluff Trail will begin on May 20 and will wrap up in early October, according to the city of La Crosse Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department.
The project, traversing up the face of Grandad Bluff — sometimes known as Grandma’s Gateway — will no longer include a proposed trail that would have traipsed along the face of the bluff itself, and will now instead include a hike-only loop on the north side of the top of the bluff, near the shelter.
The trail is estimated to have a land impact of only 3%, according to the updated plan.
The parks department announced it will also hire an ecologist to join trailbuilders when construction begins.
These updates come after community members raised flags about the plans for the trail, specifically by those living near the access points on 29th Street and Ebner Coulee Road.
“From our department, I’ll apologize to people that were not made aware earlier,” said Jay Odegaard, the director of the parks department, who addressed questions ranging from public engagement, traffic safety, soil erosion, parking, shared-use trail issues, signage and injury liability.
The parks department also revealed that it plans to create a master bluffland plan for city-owned properties in the area. Some concerns about the trail have been drawn out of past reports that caution against trail building in the bluffs.
“It will not be an easy or short route,” Odegaard said, “but I think clearly from the number of plans that have circulated around, one that is specifically for the city properties, and one that can be definitively looked at as far as what it really says, is going to be extremely important.”
There is no timeline set for when that master plan will be completed.
Several members of the public raised concerns at the meeting that no environmental impact study was done while planning the trail.
The parks department said that the cost and impact to the bluff that would be caused by a study like that would be more damaging than any trail, and instead they said they refer to a forum known as the Environmental Leadership Forum, who helps weigh-in and oversee projects in the parklands.
Individual members who serve on ELF remain private, but groups such as Friends of the Blufflands, La Crosse County, Mississippi Valley Conservancy, Outdoor Recreation Alliance, Sierra Club, University of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin DOT, all serve on it, according to its 2017 strategic plan for the bluff and marshland.
ELF also does not publicly disclose the individual opinions each group has on a certain matter, but both Mississippi Valley Conservancy and Friends of the Blufflands representatives spoke at the meeting Monday night.
MVC stated it would “neither support, nor oppose” the plans for the trail, and Friends of the Bluff said they support it but had some concerns with the project as it stands.
The city’s parks department has been working on this trail plan since 2017, when it received a grant along with the Outdoor Recreation Alliance from the International Mountain Bicycling Association.
This initial Grandad Bluff Trail is just Phase 1 of the grand plan for the grant’s use, but Phase 2 and Phase 3 are still “only conceptual,” and are in very early stages.
The new trail that could lead residents, hikers and bikers from the streets of La Crosse up to the top of one of its most notable landmarks will be “something we can be pretty proud of,” Odegaard said.
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