An 'Incredible Asset': 'Milwaukee Magazine' Explores The Oak Leaf Trail

Jun 12, 2019

Earlier this week we aired an interview with the Wisconsin Tourism Secretary Sara Meaney at Lakeshore State Park. It happens to be one of the many public parks and greenspaces accessible from Milwaukee County’s Oak Leaf Trail.

If you live in Milwaukee, chances are you're within three miles of the Oak Leaf. That makes the city just one of seven metropolitan areas where more than 90% of its residents live with close access to a public trail.

The history of the 125-mile trail and how it came to be is featured in this month’s Milwaukee Magazine in the feature “A Grand Old Leaf.” It's written by Matthew Prigge.

“The idea was to kind of create this series of these hostels in eastern Wisconsin and that never really took hold, but the idea of having these expansive trails that would’ve gone along with those did,” explains Prigge.

An old County Park sign for the "76 Trail." Named in celebration of the national bicentennial, the trail had a supposed length of 76 miles - although it was never actually that length.
Credit Martin Nowakowski

The first test ride of a 68-mile grand bicylce trail happened on June 17, 1939. That first group of eight people included avid cyclists, officials, and a journalist. They would take the same twists and turns of county park cobblestones and dirt roads that we now enjoy today as a paved trail system.

"The incredible thing to me is that you can be so close to everything yet feel very removed and like you're in a state park somewhere up north. It's just this incredible asset to have so close to everything," notes Prigge.

Prigge joined Lake Effect’s Audrey Nowakowski in the studio to share what he learned about the Oak Leaf and what it hopes to become in the future: