A few years ago, The Park People spearheaded a “passport” to entice people to explore the Oak Leaf Trail. It covers more than 100 miles of diverse terrain. At first, the passport highlighted 14 park stops. This year, it includes 26 and a full-size map.
Cheri Briscoe is a hardcore volunteer. She’s advocated for the Oak Leaf Trail even before it acquired the name.
"I love biking and so I decided that’s what I want to focus on in my later life," she says.
Briscoe hops on her recumbent bike. We start at the top of the hill at South Shore Park in Bay View, and cruise down its slope toward Lake Michigan.
Fellow trail advocate Amber Vavrusa is waiting at the bottom, on a trail fat tire bike. She works at a bicycle shop, where Briscoe “recruited” her.
“Cheri came into South Shore Cyclery and asked us to be a sponsor. Honestly, my mind drifted for a second and then they’re like ‘that’s something you would do’ and all of a sudden I’m on the committee, but it worked out,” Vavrusa explains.
The passport they collaborated on features photos and bite-sized information about each of the 26 stops along the Oak Leaf Trail.
Vavrusa says just enough to pique interest..
“And at the park you’ll either find a mail box or a kiosk inside of the building. This building because it’s not open all the time, we decided to put up the mailbox. When you flip open the lid there is a word that correlates with the park. We will not divulge it today, but people will write it in their passport and it’s kind of like their reward,” she says.
If you jot down at least eight different keywords and register your passport by summer’s end, you could win a bike.
We pedal to the northern edge of South Shore Park to admire Wisconsin's largest and stands at South Shore’s northern edge.
Vavrusa reads the plaque “The European copper beech tree was first introduced to North America in the 1700s. It is estimated that this tree was planted in the mid 1800s, which would place it on the family farm of the pioneering Estes Family farm,” she says.
Bay View resident Sonya Reim strolls by with her very large, very docile white dog.
Reim says she used to bike “I did, but I’m too old, and I fall down too much. Well I’m probably not to old, but I’d rather not ride a bike, I walk, I like to walk,” Reim says.
Cheri Briscoe shifts immediately to trail advocate “And that’s what our trails are for too, walking.”
Briscoe pulls out an Oak Leaf Trail map “Our Milwaukee County Parks Department created full-size maps
Reim admires the passport and map, but adds, “My only problem with the trails is that bikers go to fast, and they don’t have bells,” she says.
In fact, Reim says she’s given up walking South Shore’s trails on weekends….
Still, Briscoe doesn’t give up “I’m glad you mention that because that’s also a key concern of mine and our new maps actually have what we call a trail etiquette list of things and part of the purpose of these maps is that these trails are used by different kinds of users and how we can make them safe for everybody,” she says.
We leave Reim - happy but unconverted - and ride toward Humboldt Park, taking city streets.
From time to time we see a sign fastened to a post, letting us know we’re traveling the trail.
Vavrusa and Briscoe agree, the route needs more, and some existing signs should be moved.
Vavrusa has a sinking feeling that we’re off course. She pulls out the Oak Leaf map. We find we’re just a block from Humboldt Park.
Any hint of confusion floats away as we cruise along the lagoon. The air fills with singing birds.
Our final stop is a county park I’d never heard of, called Kinnickinnic Sports Center.
A cluster of young girls surrounds us. They ooh and ahh over Briscoe and Vavrusa’s bicycles.
Both women say the girls’ enthusiasm bodes well for the future of urban trail biking.