May 20, 2015

Singletrack Out, Mountain Biking In

During last night's City Council meeting, a vote of 7 to 1 was made in favor of the Park and Recreation Commission's recommendation to not approve the proposal for singletrack trails in Sheehan Park. Thus, no singletrack trails will be built in Sheehan Park.

Following this meeting and the vote, a few things are apparent:

  1. Many of the alders support the idea of mountain bike trails in Sun Prairie and would like to get something in place quickly.
  2. There is still confusion as to the difference in a mountain bike trail and a path and the space needed for each.
  3. No matter how much we promoted this as a trail system for a variety of users, both the opposition and many in favor constantly turned the proposal into a discussion on mountain biking.
  4. As we work toward other options in and around Sun Prairie, we will need to do a lot more educating as to the goals and usage of both cycling and multi-user trails.

Members of the Sun Prairie Bicycle Advocacy Group will be following up with both the Sun Prairie alders and the Parks and Recreation Commission. We will use this website and our Facebook group to provide updates. We suggest you consider subscribing to our mailing list as well.

Thank you to everyone who was in favor and supported our proposal, especially those who attended our various presentations and meetings and spoke in support during these meetings. Thanks also to those who were in opposition yet were willing to work with us toward solutions that met your concerns. Though this stage is over, we will continue to work toward more off-road and cycling opportunities in Sun Prairie.

Below is a recap of the discussions last night. Please note that the spelling of names may be wrong. Please accept our apologies if you see your name printed here incorrectly. Also, the following is based on hand written notes, not details transcribed from a recording. Thus some of the quotes might not be 100% accurate. If you see a personal quote that you feel is incorrect, please comment below. And, remember to keep this civil. Let's not spread hate toward any side of the debate. Our group's goal is to provide something that benefits everyone in town and we don't want to do this by tearing anyone down or spreading lies. If possible, please provide links to reports that support your feelings and remember to be kind.

Ninety minutes or so into the meeting the proposal came up for vote. Before opening the floor to comments Mayor Paul Esser asked Lee Igle of the Parks and Rec department to describe the proposal and what led to their vote for denial. Lee described the past few months of meetings and presentations, expressed how the Sun Prairie Bicycle Advocacy Group both listened to concerns and made changes to meet those concerns. He also mentioned that both he and the commission were in favor of a singletrack trail system. However, due to the lack of a long term plan for both Sheehan Park and the city's parks, they didn't feel this was the right time to consider something like this in Sheehan Park.

Alder George Frank then read the commission report and request for denial which was followed by the Mayor reading in the names of those who wanted to be on the record for their position on the proposal but not want to speak. This is where some of the confusion arose as some of those who were read in favor were actually in favor of the proposal, not the vote for denial. The same for those read in opposition. This was clarified as people came up to speak.

Alder Frank took a moment to let the council and others in attendance know that he was in favor a mountain bike trail system, that he would like to see a 'world class mountain biking facility'. He also pointed out that one reason for his vote against the proposal was a lack of parking at Sheehan, something that should be considered when looking at a location for this 'world class facility'.

The first audience member to speak was Barb Bailey, the chairperson for the Parks and Recreation Commission. Her main point was to remind the council that the commission voted unanimously against this proposal and that they should consider that when making their vote, that this should not occur at Sheehan Park. Alder Hariah Hutkowski asked her where the Parks and Recreation Commission thinks other options for trails might be in Sun Prairie. Barb was not able to answer suggesting it is a process and needs to be part of the long term planning.

Alder Al Guyant then pointed out that the city owns approximately 37 acres south and adjacent to Sheehan Park. He suggested that the city consider a temporary mountain bike park there using 15-17 acres and then form an ad hoc citizen committee to find the a long term location for a larger mountain bike park. He does want to protect Sheehan Park but doesn't want Sun Prairie to wait on helping the mountain bike group.

Alder Frank then pointed out that the school district might have land available for temporary use, land that could be adapted for short term mountain bike trails. He agreed that the city should do something for the mountain bikers soon. Barb replied stating that the commission would be glad to work on this moving forward with a different location.

Alder Russel Fassbender asked Barb if the commission objected to the space south of Sheehan Park. Barb replied stating that Lee Igle would have better knowledge of the availability of that land and reminded the council that there are other groups in town that are also looking for dedicated recreational space. She also reminded them that she had heard there was prevalent wildlife in the wooded areas at Sheehan Park and they they should be concerned with how these trails might affect that wildlife.

Barb was the only audience member with which the council asked questions directly.

The next audience member to speak was Mark Peela, who has spoken out against the trails at previous meetings. He pointed out that he lives a couple blocks from the park and feels the park is divided into two sections. The eastern half is dedicated to sports while the western half is dedicated to nature. He described the proposal as being meant to create a dedicated competition or racing arena in the natural part of the park, outside the existing sporting area. He stated that the trail would "carve up the natural area".

During Mark's time at the podium he used details in the proposal to support why mountain biking should not be allowed in Sheehan Park's forest. Key was a chart shown on page 6 of the proposal comparing outdoor groups in Wisconsin. He pointed out that the chart shows more wildlife viewers than bicyclists and by catering to this smaller group, the city would be affecting the forest and affecting this larger group of users. Mark also pointed out that he is a mountain biker and doesn't understand why others can't mountain bike on the existing paved paths like he does.

Mark was followed by Tom Griesheimer who spoke in favor of the proposal. Tom mentioned having just moved to Sun Prairie and one of the deciding factors for where to live was outdoor opportunities. He had heard about the proposal for trails in Sun Prairie and felt Sheehan Park would offer a unique experience within town allowing locals to ride to the park rather than have to drive to a place to ride. He also pointed out that the schools were nearby and kids, those too young to drive, would have access to trails without having to ask their parents to drive them. He also wanted the council to know that these trails would be beneficial for more than just cycling, that this proposal was for a multi-user trail benefiting runners, hikers, skiers and more. Tom has spoken in favor of the proposal at previous meetings.

The next speaker was Thomas Bindle who has also attended previous presentations and spoken against the proposal. Thomas provided his address letting the council know he lives up against the forest on Sheehan's west side. He mentioned using the ball parks and other portions of Sheehan Park, calling it the Crown Jewel of Sun Prairie. He stated that the trail was not an appropriate fit for a park of this size. Allowing the singletrack trail would allow a special interest group to have control of 25% of the park and 91% of the wooded areas. He also mentioned having spoken to a representative at Governor Nelson State Park asking why they don't offer cycling trails and was told there isn't enough room, that it would cause user conflict. He also mentioned looking up other state parks where only those that are over 1000 acres, most of which are over 2000 acres, offer cycling trails. With Sheehan only being about 143 acres, it is therefor not large enough to handle cycling trails. He hopes the city will vote to protect this relaxing area of the park. He also pointed out that he was a cyclist.

Scott Ellis then spoke in favor of the proposal. Scott has lived in Sun Prairie for over twelve years, has three young kids and lives on a block with eighteen kids under the age of twelve. He also has been a member of CORP (IMBA) for over seven years. Scott wanted the council to know he was speaking in behalf of the families on his block and other parents around town who might be seeking a safe place to teach their children both how to ride a mountain bike and how to care for nature. Right now he has to drive thirty minutes each direction in order to bring his six and eight year old children to a beginner trail. This proposal would provide a location in Sun Prairie where both he and other parents could bring their children saving them time and money. This would also draw people from out of town. He also wanted the council to know that mountain bikes are known as trail stewards, as one of the most environmentally friendly groups utilizing the outdoors.

Scott also encouraged the council to look at other cities, like Fitchburg and Cambridge, who have successful trail systems that don't cause the damage or negatively affect nature as described by those in opposition. Scott has spoken in favor of the proposal at previous presentations.

Roy Bailey was the last speaker. Roy is one of the coaches for both the local high school cycling team and a youth cycling program in Sun Prairie. He wanted the council to know these larger parks previously mentioned also have larger trail systems, that this proposal was for a much smaller trail system. He supports the proposal as it allows them to teach kids how to ride offroad as well as trail advocacy. He mentioned the team does have access to some private land; however, that is limited in space, is not open to the public and it's availability could change at any time. He also wanted the council to know he spent a couple years working with others on places to set up singletrack trails and there are no other locations in town that will provide forested riding.

This then led to an open discussion amongst the alders:

  • Guyant - wants the Parks and Recreation Commission to move with speed to find a 10-12 acre space near Sheehan to set up temporary trails and then find a new park suitable for a larger mountain bike trail system. He would like to see this ready to go by next spring.
  • Bill Connors - agrees that this is using too much land in Sheehan but understands that having forest is important for this type of trail, versus an open field. He will be voting against the recommendation from the Park and Recreation Commission.
  • Hutkowski - supports the denial of the proposal as the city already has a lot of bike paths and uses them all the time. We have plenty of opportunities in town and this proposal disrupts the current system. He suggest the bike group approach the owners of Angel Park where 'awesome' cyclocross races were held successfully in the past. He also suggested considering a county park outside of town as he feels there are no park spaces large enough in Sun Prairie.

The Mayor then put this up for a vote where all council members , minus Connors, voted in favor of the Parks and Recreation Commission's suggestion to deny the proposed trails.

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