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Business of the Month: May 2021

Great Headwaters Trails

May Business of the Month

Congratulations to: 

Great Headwaters Trails 

Great Headwaters Trails Foundation, Inc.

Non-profit 501c3

PO Box 609

Eagle River, WI 54521

Phone: (715) 617-0080

[email protected]

“Since its founding in 2010, the Great Headwaters Trails (GHT) Foundation has been closing in on its goal to build 40 miles of biking and walking trails in eastern Vilas County, the headwaters of the Wisconsin River. The system we envision will expand the Heart of Vilas Trail System and connect the towns of Eagle River, Conover, Phelps and Land O’ Lakes.” – GHT website

A trail advocacy organization once stated, “If there’s one essential ingredient to creating trails and trail systems, it’s people. All the land and financing in the world won’t blaze a trail if there aren’t people championing the project.” 

That in itself, sums up the Great Headwaters Trails, an organization of 80 plus volunteers and a board with a vision that will result in a connected, family-friendly, hard surface trail system over 120 miles long. 

GHT’s current projects include completing the Conover-Phelps Trail this summer, and establishing the River Trail connecting St. Germain to Eagle River.

Vilas County is home to 240,000 acres of public land and nearly 90 forest trails that are cherished by hikers, bikers and other sports enthusiasts. It is also home to the nationally recognized, 55-mile-long Heart of Vilas Bike Trail System and two shorter bike trails, the 12-mile Wilderness Lakes Trail in Land O’ Lakes and the 13-mile Three Eagle Trail from Eagle River to Three Lakes. GHT’s four additional trails in the eastern part of the county will add 40 miles to the picture.

According to Gary Meister, GHT board member and Co-Project Manager for the River Trail, GHT began with an ad in the newspaper that led to conversations over coffee and a bold vision to “turn some of the old railways into bike trails.” And then, he added, eventually developing the overall concept and naming the organization.  

“We’re just now starting construction on the last three-mile segment of the Conover-Phelps Trail, with our next focus on the River Trail,” said Meister.  

Collaboration in any non-profit is key, especially with the development of a trail system. 

“We’ve always been willing to collaborate with anyone who will further the completion of the bike trails,” said Jeff Currie, GHT Executive Director and a founding member together with his wife, Ann, and Meister.  “We have a strong Phelps board member in Rollie Alger, other founding members including Mike Robillard, county, town and community leaders, the forestry administrator, and really people who wanted to see this move forward. We put pieces together in a lot of ways. But this simply wouldn’t be happening in the eastern end of the county if GHT didn’t exist,” said Currie.   

GHT started off strong with an initial federal grant of $600,000 and generous contributions from private donors. 

Current Board President Tim Wright recalls the early days. “I started out having coffee with Jeff (Currie), thinking I was going to be out there with a hammer and a saw, and the next thing you know I’m on the board, and now I’m President of the Board. And it’s not just me, you just name person after person who has volunteered their time and been willing to stand at farmers markets and talk about building trails in the Eagle River area.”

The economic impact to Vilas County is noteworthy. “If you think of the economic impact in terms of vacationers who choose to make Eagle River and Vilas County a vacation spot because of our trail system, it’s huge,” said Wright. “Vilas County has really become a destination for bikers of all sorts, with nice family-friendly trails, mountain bike trails, and hiking and snowmobiling, to mention just a few.  The Heart of Vilas Bike Trail was recently named to the list of National Recreation Trails. You can’t help but enjoy the trails here, they’re just gorgeous.” 

Wright and volunteer, Anne Morrissey, both agree on the safety and convenience of the River Trail. “In addition to riding in the woods and by the river the trail provides a safe path for people to walk or ride into town. You can ride from St. German to Eagle River or vice-versa without getting on the roads,” said Morrissey. 

Fundraising has been a key to GHT’s momentum, and the group has raised more $2.5 million for trail development over the last decade. Currie says GHT needs to raise $50,000 as it completes the Conover-Phelps Trail this summer, and they aim to raise an additional $50,000 for general trail building purposes, mostly for the River Trail.  

According to Currie, you raise the stature of a project by planning carefully which ultimately helps with fundraising. “There are more than 800 people who have donated over the 11 years of GHT.  We’re a pitch in and help however and whenever you can organization,” he said.  They are indeed.  

If you would like to join or donate to GHT, contact Currie at [email protected] 

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