“There is a value to spending time together outside as a family, as well as utilizing that time to be teaching moments."
Mom power. Don’t dismiss it. It’s real. From kissing boo-boos from bike falls, to relentlessly tackling new math homework, organizing community outreach efforts and celebrating entrepreneurial success, moms know how to get things done.
Shelly Petrick and Larissa Gallagher of Union Grove, Wisconsin, know this well.
Two moms balancing work, family and the urge to reconnect with nature, Petrick and Gallagher have dedicated themselves to establishing and raising awareness for the Union Grove Rails to Trails movement—an initiative to convert the Canadian Pacific Railway Corridor, an 11-mile abandoned rail corridor between Vandenboom Road and Sturtevant, into a hiking and biking trail. The new trail would extend the White River State Trail in Burlington to trails very close to Racine and to Lake Michigan.
The result would extend the Burlington-Kansasville section of the White River State Trail to Sturtevant. This would be a vital addition within the overall Route of the Badger trail network and an important step forward in connecting the trails to Racine. The Route of the Badger is a partnership of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) and the Wisconsin Bike Federation, whose stated goal is to build a powerful 500-mile inclusive regional trail network with new opportunities for physical activity, tourism, recreation and stronger businesses along its route.
It all began over two years ago, when Petrick and Gallagher attended a business and economic meeting in Union Grove where John Siegert, an RTC consultant for the Badger project, was speaking. His enthusiasm and vision for how trails can spur economic development and promote healthy living was the catalyst that sparked the moms into action.
“I could envision how the trail could connect communities and revitalize our downtown. The potential for business growth would be tremendous for our community,” said Gallagher.
“After that meeting, I went to visit a friend in Indiana, and we walked a trail that went through downtown. All the shops, art and coffee places provided growth for the local economy with people wanting to live there. I began to think, ‘We can have that in Union Grove, and I wanted to be a part of it,’” said Petrick.
Making Progress Together
Accomplishing this growth is no small feat, but the moms are making progress through good old fashion grass-roots campaigning and relationship building.
Petrick and Gallagher organized a strategy and began outreach efforts to spread the trail message through marketing sponsorships with the Union Grove Kiwanis Club and Union Grove Lions Club, Inc., and created a Union Grove Rails to Trails Facebook page. They also have the full support of the local team working to complete the Route of the Badger.
Recently, the State of Wisconsin allocated $1 million into the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to purchase the 11-mile property in the state’s budget to help the Union Grove Rails to Trails cause. Plus, the project received support from Racine County as well as the towns and villages on the proposed trail, including Dover, Union Grove and Sturtevant.
“The work Shelley and Larissa are doing is phenomenal,” praised Willie Karidis, Route of the Badger project manager. “Through their dedicated advocacy efforts, the trail in Union Grove and Racine County will connect communities in a way that will build opportunities for businesses growth, healthier lifestyles and more transportation options for residents,” Karidis continued.
The moms’ investment is multifaceted. They volunteer their time because of their desire to share the outdoors with their families, moments with nature that were instilled in both at early ages.
“I grew up camping with my family and loved it. Being outdoors was our entertainment, and I want my kids to have the same connection with nature that I did,” said Petrick. “There is a value to spending time together outside as a family, as well as utilizing that time to be teaching moments. My kids and I discover ecosystems on a smaller scale and then discuss how these smaller moments grow into one green earth.”
“Growing up, my family didn’t really have vacations per se. We spent summers at my grandmother’s farm in Iowa and made our own adventures,” said Gallagher. “Now, my family loves to bike and spend time creating new outdoor experiences together. I want to help institute a safe space for not just my family, but all Union Grove families to enjoy nature together.”
Currently efforts are underway to close the purchase price gap of $500,000 that exists to complete the deal. Work is being done to approach businesses, foundations and individuals who might be interested in helping monetarily to see the trail come to fruition. As the trail abuts Highway 11, and the northern boundary of Foxconn’s new development, it was essential to determine whether the rail corridor was needed for their operations. Fortunately it was not, and Foxconn executives are supportive of the project!
Mom power can never be underestimated, said Karidis, adding, “Thanks to the work of people like Larissa and Shelley, they constantly remind us of the value of this project and inspire us to continue to work to help create an extended trail through Union Grove. This trail will provide a new opportunity for the communities along the trail to bike with their kids, enjoy a peaceful walk and stimulate economic growth for a multitude of businesses. In the future, it will serve as a connection point to the new Foxconn Campus for thousands of people who would rather bike or walk to work. It is a project to be proud of.”
Learn more about the Route of the Badger on the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy website.
This article was originally created for Wisconsin Bike Fed magazine.