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Friday, September 25, 2009

Lake Herman Loop -- Proposal for Bicycle Bliss

Much to my pleasure, the City of Madison is charging forward with plans to expand its recreational trail into a full blown network of pedaling and strolling adventure. Wednesday's MDL tells us that Double H Paving of Tea will lay down the Highway 19 southerly extension of the existing trail next summer (please tell me you guys are running this out to the new public access area at the county poor farm!). Even before that project starts, the rec trail committee is planning the next big route: a trail west along Silver Creek (beautiful! curves!) to the city limits, then south and west along the oil roads to Lake Herman State Park.

The rec trail committee is holding an open house on Tuesday, October 20 (6 p.m., Madison fire station). I'll go to urge them to build the trail without cutting down too many trees along the creek or on the hill on 234th Street.

I'll also go to offer this map and a proposal for the next big project: The Lake Herman Loop.

Lake Herman Loop: Proposed Biking/Hiking Trail
(click image to enlarge)

Imagine if we could offer cyclists the chance to circumnavigate Lake Herman, almost entirely off county roads, as close to the shore as possible. Here's one possible route:
  1. From the Lake Herman State Park entrance, ride the big arc through the park's open eastern grassland. Then enter the trees of the old upper campground and ride in shade all the way to the southern boundary of the park. (Feel free to toodle around on the state park roads for a while first and rejoin the trail at Philosophizing Peak.)
  2. Drop down to the shore through Dirks Resort. Get a quick workout on the hill coming out of the resort.
  3. Turn west through the trees and ride the Southern Grassway, across the new Doblar Bridge for pedestrians over the southern tributary, all the way to Camp Lakodia.
  4. Ride on past Reynolds' and Langes' through Cottonwood Cove Pass to the boat ramp.
  5. Weave through the trees and over the hills on West State Park Trail and through the open pasture at the St. Thomas Recreation Center.
  6. Follow West Lake Road to the north bay and Stoneback Bridge, another new pedestrian bridge over the golf course creek.
  7. Ride 233rd Street and Territorial Road back to the state park entrance. Optionally, you can return to town along the Prairie Village–Creek Spur.
Total distance for the Lake Herman Loop: about 7.5 miles. About five miles of new pavement. We took a family ride last night along Territorial and thought about adding trail alongside that road as well, but Territorial is already the prettiest road in the county, traffic is light and slow, and there's not a lot of extra right of way to add a separate trail without cutting deeply into some folks' yards. We figure we can focus whatever money comes available on adding the new path elsewhere around the lake.

Advantages of this plan:
  1. Cyclists love loops. Riding out to Johnson's Point on the existing Highway 34–Lake Madison trail is fun, and the Madison–Lake Herman trail will provide a nice loopy destination. But it's even more fun not to have to retrace one's route.
  2. 7.5 miles of new Herman trail would nearly double the network that will already be in place. That kind of distance approaches the bicycle tourism destination level (i.e., people will drive here just to ride).
  3. Beautiful views of the lake. We showcase for tourists our county's best selling point: a gorgeous lake with lots of open, undeveloped, public green space.
  4. Eco-variety: this route includes everything! Shoreline, open prairie, and the closest thing to forest we get in this county.
  5. Eco-sense: by purchasing rights of way along the southeast and northwest shores, the city can establish a trail and plant the adjoining acres to native grasses to serve as buffers for the lake right next to major tributaries. Those grassy buffers will improve water quality at the head of the Lake County watershed and provide benefits for everyone all the way from my house to Brant Lake.
  6. Oh yeah, my house! My little girl can set up her lemonade stand right at Cottonwood Cove Pass and refresh weary travelers at the far western edge of their journey. I can also set up my bike repair stand and offer tune-ups and my best Chamber of Commerce welcome speech!
A Lake Herman Loop is probably several years off. But if the idea catches on with others, the City and County can start saving up now, lining up grants, and working with landowners to prepare what a bike path that could rival the Sioux Falls city path for fun, beauty, and tourist appeal. Think ahead, and think big!

Update 2009.09.29: We've got some bike trail competition... in Yankton! Bernie Hunhoff at South Dakota Magazine reports that the Yankton City Commission voted last night to take possession of the old Meridian Bridge. Expect the bridge to become a vital link in a glorious network of bike trails around the Mother City of the Dakotas. We'd better hop to it on the Herman Trail!


  1. I think its a great proposal! I hope others think the same - it would give people like me that lived in madison for over 20+ years a chance to finally see what the majority of the lakefront area looks like! I know I would pack up my bike, drive to madison, park at the state park, and bike that entire loop.... probably quite often.

    the more bike trails we can get is always a +++ now if we can just get huron to finish the one they have started - it isnt much, but at least its a start... :) :) :)

  2. Out in Rapid we have many recreational bikers come through and the local bike shops serve as a hub of information. You can't really find it online, so that's just how the culture has evolved.

    A little local bike shop is really needed for coordination, but I don't think the local area can support one.

  3. Aren't there still land owners fighting the bike trail? What will happen if they don't grant permission?

  4. Seems last time Pitts didn't want to have the trail on his land. Much as I look forward to a nice Herman bike trail, I don't want to build it at the expense of any landowner rights. If we don't have 100% agreement from the landowners to a fair price for use of their land, forget it. My proposed loop crosses a lot of private property, like the Southern Grassway. If the city, county, and landowners could not come to an agreement on a fair price, or if a landowner simply said "No way," I would move the route. There should be no use of eminent domain for this project.

    Michael, I hope we can give you that excuse for a trip! (Now there's got to be some railbed between Madison and Huron we could convert to a bike trail....)

    Tony, you may be right about the bike shop. Glen tried with that shop in the 90s (I got my good mountain bike from him!), but there just wasn't the concentration of cyclists above Huffy grade to support it. But let's dream: build a big beautiful Herman loop, and cyclists will flock here!

  5. A great idea. An annual biking event to raise funds for a nice charity, perhaps in conjunction with prairie village days could raise the profile of biking in the area to help support somebody re-opening a bike shop. I miss riding out around Herman.

  6. Good point, Roger. There could certainly be tie-ins with some of the tour events that take place in South Dakota. The MS 150 has come to Madison before; they might be all the more inclined to swing through here if we offered a spectacular 20-mile bike trial (up 19, out to Herman, around and back to Madison) to finish up on. A big part of this plan is to create a destination, a reason to come to Madison.


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