In 2005 a group of forward thinking Merrill residents felt that there was a need for a biking and walking trail in our community. Contact was made with Angie Tornes of the National Park Service to discuss the possibility. A plan was developed which sought to transform blighted areas along our riverfront. This plan was called “the City of Merrill Eastside Waterfront Initiative” and was finalized in 2010. It was adopted by the Merrill Common Council on February 9th 2010. The plan was presented to the voters in a referendum which failed to pass presumably because there were concerns about cost to taxpayers.
In 2011, led by Gene Bebel, a retired school administrator, the River District Development Foundation of Merrill was established. Their goal was to develop a pedestrian and bike trail along the Wisconsin River in the city of Merrill. The National Park Service awarded a technical assistance grant for a trail route tying the downtown to Council Grounds State Park. Angie Tornes held a workshop to design the trail and a concept plan report was issued in September 2012. This was a 42 page synopsis of the process and goals of a 2.5 mile trail. The River Bend Trail project began. April 6, 2013 Capital Campaign fundraising began.
The Foundation and the City became partners in April 2013 through a resolution of support. The historic New Wood Line rail corridor on the Wisconsin River was purchased in October 2013 with stewardship funds and private donations. As sponsoring donors, the Nicklaus Family funded the renovation of the Prairie River railroad bridge with AGRA Industries as contractor.
On July 22, 2014 the Development and Leasing Corporation gifted the old Anson-Gilkey property to the RDDF for future use to complete phase 2 of the trail. This section was completed in 2017.
Agra Construction is restoring the outside of the trailhead building located at the end of South Park Street. Funds are being raised to redesign the inside of the building with bathrooms that will be accessible from the trail, a kitchenette and large gathering area. When completed it will be available for community use.
Funds are continuing to be raised, grants applied for, donations accepted to continue the trail to the east and west. Our story continues…