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East River Water Trail proposal shows community well-being in action

The sound of birds chirping, the splish splash of water, and warmth from the summer sun. Paddling down the East River, one might forget that you’re in Brown County. Yet, an abundance  of fresh waterways are one of our community’s greatest assets. There is a growing movement to make sure the habitats of the East River are maintained and recreation on it as a water trail is possible for people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. 

So, let’s go “upstream” a bit to understand what a water trail is, review the current working plan, and learn how you can get involved.

What is a water trail? Think about it like a hiking trail on the water. Water trails feature access and launch points that are open to the public and able to be used by people of varying ages and physical abilities. The water trail would be a place where friends meet, families create memories, and our natural environment thrives. That’s a win-win-win.

A group of local kayakers had been paddling the East River and recognized the need to improve water quality, remove fallen trees and debris, and habitat restoration. Like all good grassroots, community-led efforts, this group started asking questions, doing some research, and getting more people involved. They connected to local nonprofit organizations, municipal leaders, and Brown County government to find out what was possible. This led to the creation of a local coalition that includes resident champions, Village of Allouez, Brown County Land and Water Conservation, Bellevue Department of Parks, Recreation, and Forestry, Ledgeview Parks Department, The Nature Conservancy, Brown County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League, the Fox-Wolf Watershed Alliance, and Wello.  

What’s the current plan? The proposed East River Water Trail would run next to the existing paved trail and be open to non-motorized recreation such as kayaks and canoes while surrounded by the beauty of nature. The water trail project has two core pillars. The first is about water quality improvements and habitat restoration. The second is the addition of inclusive kayak launch sites to promote recreation and care for the natural environment. These two elements are not only core to the project, they represent building blocks to strengthening our community and overall well-being. 

In May, this community coalition brought forward a proposal to the Brown County Land Conservation Sub Committee to catalyze efforts to improve water quality of the East River with $500,000 of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Thanks to the future-thinking committee members, this funding request for the environmental improvements was approved at the committee level! 

“Installing additional kayak launches, controlling invasive species and replanting natives, creating instream fish habitat and controlling bank erosion will provide great environmental and recreational benefits to Brown County residents,” said Michael Mushinski of Brown County Land and Water Conservation Department. 

This work would concentrate on the portion of the East River running through Bellevue, Allouez, De Pere, and Ledgeview.  

What’s next? The next immediate step is for final approval from the full Brown County Board of Supervisors. The coalition is also now focusing on identifying additional funding sources to add the second pillar: recreation opportunities through the addition of accessible kayak launches to create the water trail. Through local partnerships, we are identifying locations of interest and building-out cost estimates for what will be needed to establish and maintain the launches. 

It starts small. It starts locally. It can start with you. This project is one example of getting involved where you live to build a culture of health. We welcome you to join us!

This story ran as our June Green Bay Press-Gazette column.

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