News: Neillsville - Rails to Trails Project Receives Grant (2021)

Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon

Surnames: Clough, Counsell, Opelt, Perrine, Harnisch, Buchsteiner, Murphy, Heiman

----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) 10/06/2021

Rails to Trails Project Receives $50K DNR Grant

Neillsville Common Council and Neillsville Improvement Corporation (NIC) members celebrate the $50,000 grant from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Shown from (l-r) are Ward 1 alderperson John Perrine, Ward 3 alderperson Dave Harnisch, NIC director Rick Buchsteiner, Mayor Diane Murphy, Ward 2 alderperson and NIC vice-president Dan Clough, NIC treasurer Denise Clough and NIC president Deanna Heiman. Submitted photo

With a recent grant announcement, the Rails to Trails project is another step close to becoming a reality.

At the Sept. 28 Neillsville Common Council meeting, Ward 2 alderperson Dan Clough announced that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) awarded a $50,000 grant to the city of Neillsville and Neillsville Improvement Corporation (NIC) for the Neillsville Trailhead Complex and first section of the recreational trail project known as Rails to Trails.

With the unanimous passing of a motion made by Ward 5 alderperson Julie Counsell on April 27, NIC and the city of Neillsville became co-signers of the application for the Stewardship Aids for Acquisition and Development of Local Parks Grant. Clough, who is also NIC vice-president, noted that, per the DNR, competition was very tight this year due to the higher-than-normal number of applications.

The support from the state will go toward the first phase of the Rails to Trails economic development project, a 13-mile, non-motorized trail from Neillsville to Granton to Chili. The proposed trail will be on Northern States Power’s active powerline corridor, along a former railroad bed. Specifically, the grant money will go toward the trailhead complex and first seven-tenths of a mile of trail.

The Neillsville Trailhead Complex will be east of Buck’s Creekside Bar next to O’Neill Creek. It will include a playground dedicated to Carl and Millie Opelt, whose family has played a major role in the development of the community. This park will be unique for Neillsville in its water access and its playground, which will feature inclusive elements for children of all abilities, including a wheelchair swing, roller slide, conga drums and xylophone. The trail will be able to be used year-round for bicycling, walking, cross country skiing and snowshoeing.

Now that NIC and the city of Neillsville have been selected for the grant, the next steps include completing the formal paperwork to accept the grant and work stipulations. After the work is completed, they will submit paperwork for reimbursement.

The DNR grant is the latest in a string of donations that have built momentum for the overall project. The first weekend of September, supporters of Neillsville’s Opelt Project participated in several events to raise money for the play structure to be constructed in the trailhead complex. Local businesses sponsored holes for a Sept. 4 golf outing, which included raffle prizes, a silent auction and sales of Opelt legacy apparel. The next day featured a charcoal chicken fundraiser, sponsored by the Neillsville Lions Club, and walk-a-thon. In total, the three weekend events brought in $10,000 to be applied toward the project’s goal, along with pledges for several in-kind donations.

In July, the Opelt Project received a $5,000 grant from the Scarlett Nicholas Memorial Fund of the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation. The award was designated for the purchase of a “Vibes” xylophone auditory sensory play component for the park in honor of the Bernie and Hanna Opelt family.

Additionally, in September, NIC was awarded a $5,000 grant from the WE Energies Foundation.

To date, NIC has purchased two parcels of land for the trailhead complex and four parcels for the beginning of the trail going east. The trailhead, which is adjacent to the city’s Fountain Park and O’Neill Creek, will contain several components including an ADA-compliant fishing dock, and water access for canoeing and kayaking. There will also be a picnic shelter and fitness equipment for adults.

The entire project does not have a definitive fundraising goal because the different components of the project will be completed as enough money is raised for them.

“As much as we raise, we will use,” Clough said.

He said the plan is to do the project in phases. The first phase will be rough landscaping. Then, ideally, Clough would like to have the playground and fitness equipment installed at the same time. After that or around the same time will be the picnic shelter. The fishing dock and kayak launch will be completed after that since those items are lower on the priority list.

NIC serves as the fiscal agent for goth the trailhead complex and the Rails to Trails Project. Donations can be made by check payable to Neillsville Improvement Corporation, 508 Hewett St., Neillsville, WI 54456.

If making a donation specifically for the Opelt Project, checks should be made out to NIC with “Opelt Project” written on the memo line.

People may also donate through NIC’s website at or through the donate button on the organization’s Facebook page.



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