News: Neillsville – Trail Head Groundbreaking (2022)

Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon

Surnames: Opelt, Heiman, Schutte

----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) 4/27/2022

Groundbreaking Planned For O’Neill Creek Trailhead/Opelt Park (2022)

By Valorie Brecht

The Neillsville Improvement Corporation (NIC) and the Opelt family have invited the community to attend a groundbreaking ceremony for the O’Neill Creek Trailhead and Opelt Park, as they celebrate the start of construction on a community project.

The ceremony will be May 9 at 5:30 p.m. at the green space behind Buck’s Creekside Bar, 801 Hewett St., Neillsville.

“It’s a chance to celebrate as economic development project in the community… It’s a way to bring the community together and celebrate some good news after the past two years of not-so-good news,” said NIC president Deanna Heiman.

The project will include a trailhead complex with a playground dedicated to the Opelt family and the first seven-tenths of a mile of the O’Neill Creek Trail.

The trailhead complex is to include a large playscape, adult fitness stations, a wheelchair glider swing, fishing pier, kayak launch, pavilion/warming shack, restroom facilities, standard amenities (picnic tables, benches, bike racks and waste receptacles), the entrance to the trail and the first seven tenths of a mile of trail. The total price tag for all those elements is $317,950. However, fundraising is already well on its way.

There has been more than $70,000 donated for the trailhead, plus NIC received $50,000 in a Department of Natural Resources matching grant. The Neillsville Lions Club has also agreed to donate the pavilion/warming shack and a local family will donate the wheelchair glider swing.

“We are still raising fund and have several outstanding grant requests. How much money we raise will determine how many pieces we put in,” explained Heiman. “We already ordered the playscape and adult fitness stations in December and made a substantial down payment on those. They are anticipated for delivery at the end of July.

“We are really lucky that we’ve had a lot of generous donors already,” she added.

If NIC receives more grant funding than what the trailhead project will cost, the money will go toward extending the trail farther. The long-term goal is to put in a 13-mile non-motorized recreational trail from Neillsville through Granton to Chili. The trail will go along a former railroad bed, which now serves as an active powerline corridor.

For now though, NIC’s main focus is the trailhead complex and seeing that come together. NIC has been working with MSA Professional Services to develop a site plan.

“MSA has been fantastic because they’ve worked on other trailhead projects,” said Heiman.

One such project is Lakefront Pines Park in Phelps, which connects to the Conover-Phelps Trail.

The goal is to provide a hub for healthy lifestyle activities such as walking, biking, cross country skiing and snowshoeing; and also water activities like fishing, kayaking and ice skating. The playground itself will provide exercise opportunities for people of differing ability levels.

“The neat thing about this park is it really focuses on being handicap-accessible. There are no woodchips – it will be a rubber surface. The pier will be ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant. The playscape will have sensory elements to focus on kids with different abilities. We’re pretty excited because there’s no park like this in our community - to provide those activities for kids and disabled adults,” said Heiman.

The Opelt family has taken the lead in fundraising for the playscape, which will be in honor of Carl and Millie Opelt for all the contributions they made to the Neillsville community. People may visit to make a contribution to the Opelt playscape specifically or the trailhead complex.

Heiman expressed her appreciation to Irv Schutte, who owns Buck’s Creekside Bar, for his part in the project.

“Irv really got this going because he agreed to sell us the parcels of land for the trailhead complex. It if wasn’t for Irv, this wouldn’t be happening,” said Heiman.

She also expressed appreciation to the community as a whole for getting behind the project, and was looking forward to celebrating that at the groundbreaking ceremony.

“We’re grateful to all who have supported this project and we’re looking forward to making more partnerships for this awesome trail,” she said.

As of April 22, MSA was going through the bidding process for the project. Next steps will include the removal of some trees over the next four weeks and Xcel Energy relocating a power pole in the area.

Project background: An exploratory committee was formed seven years ago for the Rails to Trails project. In January 2021, NIC purchased six parcels of land for the trailhead complex and 0.7 miles of trail.




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