Grabbing the opportunity to make River Trail a reality

In his recent News-Review letter about the River Trail, Dick Leinenkugel did a great job of pointing out the value of the Heart of Vilas bike trail system, and the enormous opportunity the towns of St Germain, Cloverland, Lincoln and the City of Eagle River now have to become part of the system.

This was written on May 25, 2023, as a follow-up for those who missed Dick’s letter, and also to let people know of the Eagle River Council meeting coming up at 6 p.m. on June 13.

As Dick wrote, even in mid-May there was a great amount of activity on the “beautiful bike trails in the Manitowish Waters, Boulder Junction and Winchester areas.” All five towns connected by the 55-miles of trails find that their trails are well used and a great asset for their communities.

The partnership between the River Trail Commission and volunteer nonprofit Great Headwaters Trails (GHT) gives Eagle River and its neighboring towns a good chance to be a part of the Heart of Vilas System too. 

But grabbing the opportunity will necessitate close collaboration between four municipalities and the county, a challenge in itself. And the trail will be very expensive to build, another challenge.

The River Trail Commission is key to the collaboration part. It was formed by St. Germain, Cloverland and Eagle River in 2018. Lincoln can join at any time but has so far declined. Seeking to build a safe, accessible and well-used trail, the Commission oversaw the development of a professional feasibility study for the River Trail in 2019. Since then it has set up several opportunities for all stake holders – towns, city, county, DOT, DNR, snowmobile clubs, ATV-UTV clubs and local businesses and residents – to review the detailed plans in the study.

GHT’s role in the partnership is to raise awareness of the project and to raise all the funds needed to develop the multi-million dollar trail. That means that the towns around Eagle River and the county will become part of the Heart of Vilas Trail System without paying for the trail to be built, 

Their roles are to continue to collaborate well, keep the Commission strong, and handle things like holding DOT permits that only taxing bodies can handle. In addition, as Dick pointed out, the municipalities that wlll own the River Trail need to “look closely at the ongoing costs of maintenance.”

The Commission has already begun doing that and is in the process of developing a trail care plan under which the partner municipalities can share the cost and methods for River Trail care. 

To develop their plan, the commissioners are learning how the 5 towns currently connected by the Heart of Vilas have been handling the care of their 55-miles of asphalt trail. The commissioners task is a lighter lift by far: figuring out how three or four towns can handle care for the 10-mile River Trail. 

A good place to learn more about the River Trail project will be the Eagle River Council meeting at 6 p.m. at City Hall on June 13. City administrator Robin Ginner will be giving a report on the project to the council that night.

To get more details before then, go to the GHT web page, To know more about the nationally recognized Heart of Vilas Trail System check out their website,

Building the high value River Trail project will be a challenge, without a doubt, but the River Trail Commission and GHT give the towns from St Germain to Eagle River an excellent chance of getting it done if everyone keeps working together.