JEFFERSON — Jefferson County continued to build its reputation as an island of serenity for outdoor recreation enthusiasts in southeastern and south-central Wisconsin Tuesday with county board approval of an extension of the Interurban Trail farther east toward Oconomowoc.
A resolution, ratified unanimously by the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors Tuesday, authorizes an extension of the licensing agreement between Wisconsin Electric Power Co., doing business as We Energies, and Jefferson County, for the purpose of constructing Phase 2 of the Interurban Trail from Watertown to Oconomowoc.
The Jefferson County Parks Department has been constructing a recreation trail for hiking, biking and cross-country skiing on right-of-way owned by We Energies east of Watertown. The proposed trail is 10.96 miles in length between Watertown and Oconomowoc. A trailhead in Watertown is located near Concord Avenue.
Following Tuesday’s board session, Jefferson County Park Director Kevin Wiesman said he was pleased with the supervisor’s assessment of the value of adding to the trail.
“The extension of the county’s current license agreement or lease with We Energies to operate the Interurban Trail is a requirement for the agencies we partner with for grant and support funds,” he said. “They want to see a contract that meets or exceeds the life of the project, which they define as 20 years. That being said, I think it’s important to note that We Energies has these types of agreements and trails on quite a few of their corridors and have not rescinded any that we are aware of. We’re just extending our license to meet our grant obligations.”
The off-road, paved, trail connection is being built on the former Interurban Rail Line that connects Watertown to Oconomowoc. The path cross-section will consist of a 10-foot-wide asphalt surface with 2-foot-wide aggregate shoulders. An 8-inch stone base with 3-inch asphalt layer will be used. The project is located primarily in Jefferson County where there are 10 miles and a portion in Waukesha County of one mile.
On Feb. 10, 2015, the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution that authorized the initial 15-year licensing agreement with We Energies.
“This provided the necessary authority for the county to proceed forward with Phase 1 of the project from the City of Watertown to River Road,” county officials said in the resolution. “This phase of the project included the installation of a bridge, safety fencing and initial grading with asphalt milling overlays in preparation for a future asphalt surface. Jefferson County has completed Phase 1 and continues to work on Phase 2 of this project, which runs from River Road to County Highway F.”
Jefferson County has been successful in receiving grant funds to help cover the costs of this phase and these include a Federal TAP Grant and a DNR Stewardship grant.
The county has been in the engineering phase over the past 18 months, and it is anticipated that bids will be solicited for Phase 2 of this project during the first quarter of 2022.
“To ensure that the term of the license agreement continues throughout the expected life of the trail infrastructure, We Energies has agreed to extend the duration of the license by an additional 15 years, ending in 2045,” the county stated. “All other terms of the initial license agreement remain unchanged.”
The resolution approved Tuesday authorizes Jefferson County Administrator Ben Wehmeier to sign the license extension with We Energies, which will extend the license for an additional 15 years. It also authorizes Wehmeier to execute future license extensions for the Interurban Trail Project that are consistent with the base license agreement approved through a county board resolution that was approved in 2014.
The parks committee considered this resolution at its meeting on Aug. 9 and recommended forwarding the documents to the county board for its approval Tuesday night.
Entering into this license agreement with We Energies will have no fiscal impact on Jefferson County.
Planners and supporters of the trail envision that, someday, the Interurban Trail will give users the opportunity to ride safely from the northern end of the Glacial River Trail in Watertown, east to the Hank Aaron and Oak Leaf trails, as well as lakefront in Milwaukee.