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Group files civil suit against city of La Crosse to block Grandad Bluff trail

Group files civil suit against city of La Crosse to block Grandad Bluff trail

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A group opposing the new multi-use trails beneath Grandad Bluff has filed a civil lawsuit against the city of La Crosse, seeking to put a restraining order on the land and block the project.

The lawsuit, filed on May 15, comes after months of back-and-forth about the project, which would build nearly five miles of multi-use trails on the 160-acres surrounding Grandad Bluff.

Residents who live near the bluff started to push back on the plans, worried that the largely undeveloped slope leading up to the bluff would suffer environmental damage and that a new trail system would introduce more traffic to the neighborhood.

But the project was ultimately given the greenlight. An access road included in the plans has already been constructed at the top of the bluff, and erosion barriers have been put in place along the grounds, according to park staff, but the remainder of the work is slated to start until mid-June.

New Grandad Bluff Trail map

The updated plans for the Grandad Bluff Trail no longer include a trail leg following the face of the bluff, and now include a hike-only loop near the north side near the overlook.

Conflicting reports on the potential environmental impact of the trail keep surfacing, with the La Crosse Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department reporting the trails would only have about a 3% impact on the land, but previous comprehensive plans from the city and state that new trail development could cause ecological damage.

Earlier in the year, a USDA soil report surfaced during the debates about the trail, highlighting the soil condition and potential for erosion in the area, and giving advice on trail construction. Both sides said the reports told a different story.

Protestors to the plan urged the city to conduct an environmental impact study, but officials said it would be too costly and could cause damage to the bluff itself.

As it stands, the parks department's projects go through the Environmental Leadership Forum to determine whether it's suitable and safe for the area. Th forum includes officials from such groups as the DNR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

But attached to the Grandad Bluff Coalition's petition against the city was a new independent environmental finding from an engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that said the plans for the trail would cause irreparable harm to the bluff.

"It is my expert opinion that the construction and operation of an extensive set of mountain biking trails on Grandad Bluff would cause irreparable harm to the unique geological and cultural history of Grandad Bluff," professor James Tinjum wrote in his findings.

Specifically, Tinjum highlighted that bike paths should not be located within 100 meters upslope of occupied residences or structures, that construction on steep slopes, like that of Grandad Bluff, would modify existing drainage patterns, disrupt the soil and canopy of the wooded area, leading to modifications in micro-topography and micro-climate for the area, which could enhance erosion chances.

The trails are set to be multi-use, allowing both hiking and biking in designated areas. But Tinjum also wrote in his findings that allowing high-intensity mountain biking on the bluff would "indelibly and irreparably impact the tranquility, setting and nature" of the area.

"La Crosse County is characterized by unique contrasts in topography and geology and Grandad Bluff epitomizes these contrasts" he wrote, saying that the bluff holds unique and fragile rock outcroppings that are significant to the Driftless area.

"I am also an avid biker who routinely bikes upwards of 5,000 miles per year on roads and paths across the Upper Midwest. Coupled with my technical expertise in slope stability and landslides, I have a somewhat unique sensitivity to biking options and trail availability in this context," Tinjum added to his report.

Tinjum said he visited the bluff to conduct his research on March 17.

The petition, which included this report, was signed by the Grandad Bluff Coalition, and various concerned residents, who are seeking to halt construction of trails specifically on the north, west and south faces of the bluff.

The group declined to comment on the petition until a judge's decision was announced, which is expected in the coming days.

"We can appreciate," the passionate stance the group has had on the trail project, said Jay Odegaard, director of the city's Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department. "Really from here on out the court system will make the proper determination"

The city's board of park commissioners is scheduled to meet Thursday evening for its monthly meeting, and an update on the trail is expected.


"It is my expert opinion that the construction and operation of an extensive set of mountain biking trails on Grandad Bluff would cause irreparable harm to the unique geological and cultural history of Grandad Bluff."

James Tinjum, UW professor 

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