You don't have to go very far to get some exercise and feel like you're out of the city. Milwaukee's Oak Leaf Trail is fantastic for biking, jogging, inline skating, or taking a stroll on a lovely summer day. In winter, you can ski it. The entire system features over 100 miles of loops which include paved off-road trails, parkways, and regular old streets - you can ride north to Brown Deer, west to 124th Street, south to Ryan Road, and east to the lake. The best parts, of course, are the off-road paths, which are surrounded by trees and seem entirely un-urban. It is, simply, beautiful and relaxing.
There are ramps on and off the trail at regular intervals, and the Milwaukee County Parks Department is in the process of marking the trail so you know where you are - two features which add a sense of security.
Bike, skate, jog, or walk along the lake, along the Milwaukee River and through Milwaukee's parks. The bike trail goes through Riverside park, with access to the Urban Ecology Center, and to the Boerner Botanical Gardens, just to give you an idea of how great this trail is. Currently in the works is a push to join the paved trail through Franklin, connecting segments from Drexel to Loomis. Also proposed is an extension running the trail from Drexel to Racine.
Current loops beyond the 71 mile main trail are the 15 mile East-West Connector, running from Wauwatosa down to West Allis and over to the lake; the 5.9 Lake Loop, which is the trail on the lake side of Lincoln Memorial Drive; the 2.7 mile Whitnall Loop, horticulture-o-rama; and the 1.7 mile Lincoln Creek Spur. I haven't biked the whole thing, but I'm telling you, I will do it. I will.
If you're worried about safety, I believe the ramps, street markings, and sheer numbers of people you will find on the trails during the day make it feel very safe. There's risk to anything, of course, but if you're using common sense and on the trails during daylight, your biggest concern is likely to be not trampling or being trampled by others out enjoying the day, like you. With that in mind, there are a few key rules the Parks Department recommends you follow. I think they're great rules, and I also recommend you follow them.
- Yield to people already on the trail.
Please don't come flying down a ramp - there's probably somebody coming along the trail. Take it easy, and look around you.
- Keep to the right.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but a lot of people aren't following this. Whether you're on the trail or on a street, you keep to the right. That's the way we do it here. If I'm on my bike on the right side of the trail, and you're roller-blading straight at me, there's a problem.
- Ride single file.
Again, if you're coming straight at me, there's going to be a problem. If you and your friend are taking up the whole width of the trail, I have nowhere to go. So, at least, if you see me coming, move to the right behind your friend. That way, we won't crash.
- Slow down.
This isn't a race. It's recreation. Especially slow down around blind curves. There are other people here, including kids. Do it for the kids.
- ..But don't slow down so much that you stop.
If you stop, get off the trail. This is especially true if there's a group of you. It's not the place to hang out and chit-chat. The path is for motion. If you need to stop, just move on into the grass, out of my way. You can talk there.
- Pass - and be passed - with care.
If you've got to pass me, say, "On your left," and pass me. Don't say, "Coming through!" or "Look out!" because I don't know which way you're going, especially if I'm not following the rules about keeping to the right or riding single file. And if I should say, "On your left," don't ignore me, or start flailing and going all over the trail. Just wave and move to the right if, say, you're not following those rules I just mentioned. If you're already on the right, just wave and stay on the right.
- Keep your dog on a short leash, and pick up his poop.
- Wear a helmet.
I do. Helmets are cool. Besides, I'm kind of fond of my brain. Okay, if you're just walking or jogging, maybe you don't needthe helmet.
Additionally, when on the streets, the Parks Department reminds you to use proper hand signals, walk your bike through busy intersections, use a headlight and wear light colored clothing at night, and use your skates on the sidewalk, not the street.
Following these rules will help make sure we're all safe and happy and having a good time.
I know you can't wait to go, so here's the map. See you on the trails!