‘I want everything to stop’ La Crosse residents concerned over bluff trail project

La Crosse trail project concerns

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – A group of La Crosse neighbors is raising concerns over safety on a planned city trail project. The park and rec department has been planning to build new trails and access points along the bluff for almost two years.

This new plan would add several miles of trails and an access point along 29th Street. However, there are several homes in that area and many of those people are concerned about things such as potential soil erosion. They say the city is not listening to their concerns.

“At this point I want everything to stop,” said La Crosse resident Christine Clair.

The project is Grandma’s gateway. It’s something the parks department has been working toward since 2018 after the city was awarded a grant from the International Mountain Bicycling Association.

“Ellen Hixon donated these lands with the sole intention that these woods and lands were for public recreation,” said Jay Odegaard, director of parks, recreation, and forestry for the city of La Crosse. “Some of the contention comes with the fact we are going to have access routes in neighborhoods.”

Christine Clair lives in that neighborhood.

“These are the first trails above homes,” Clair said.

She says a soil report given to her by the U.S. Department of Agriculture USDA-Report-Grandads-Bluff shows soils at risk for erosion.

“That bluff might come down or parts of it might come down,” Clair said. “It’s going to land on somebody’s home or it’s going to kill somebody.”

Odegaard disagrees due to his department’s experience with bluff trail projects over the years.

“In the last 10 years, we have built over 15 miles of trails in these bluffs. This isn’t something that is new to us.”

Clair says her neighborhood had no knowledge of the proposed access point and said the city ignored her safety concerns.

“We were basically told, ‘Don’t worry about it,'” she said.

The city has hired a third-party company to take a look at the project. They have even removed a trail after further investigation.

He said the point of the project is to provide more recreational resources and try to eliminate illegal activity on the bluff.

“Bringing good positive use into an area is going to immediately impact negative use in that area,” Odegaard said.

Clair said there needs to be more transparency with city leaders.

“It’s servant leadership,” Clair said. “The city hall is not doing that. They need to wake up.”

Odegaard said the city has had roughly 15 public meetings about the project since August of 2018.

La Crosse Parks

He said the city can do a better job informing the public about public meetings on social media. The contractor for the project will be a certified trail builder. The planning commission is meeting Monday to deal with some zoning issues on a couple of city-owned properties related to this project.

There are two petitions circulating, one to stop and the other to save the project. The parks department will present the plan to the personnel and finance committee on Feb. 6 and then the common council Feb. 13.