Broad blue skies strung with white cloud wisps; gem-green fields harboring cattails and butterflies; canopied glens giving way to cavernous quarries. It's all part of the ride on the 14-mile Bugline Recreation Trail in and around Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, just 20 miles northwest of Milwaukee.
The western half of the trail, from Merton to Sussex, is paved. Improvements will begin in June 2014 to pave the remaining 8 miles of the trail, which currently have a crushed limestone surface. The project is expected to be completed by the fall.
The eastern end of the trail begins in a tranquil residential area of Menomonee Falls. Residents in one-story ramblers have fashioned makeshift trail-access points all along the Bugline, and you'll be sharing the trail with local walkers, hikers, bikers and runners who flock to this recreation corridor.
Out of the neighborhood, the trail dips into a forest of forked burr oak and linden trees. Dappled light laces the mostly straight, white path until a clearing opens up to an active limestone quarry. The sheer sides of the excavation site dwarf enormous construction vehicles. About 1.5 miles past the quarry is a short rail-trail spur leading to Menomonee Park, site of the stone quarrying that was this area's significant industry from 1880 to 1900. Today, remnants from that time remain in Menomonee Park, including an old stone crusher and a public swimming beach at the now-flooded quarry.
Signs and crosswalks mark the several points where the trail crosses moderately busy roads, though it pays to be alert as some of the crossings are at odd angles to the road. In suburban Sussex, at the trail's halfway point, the Bugline makes a short jaunt south along State Route 164. Follow Silver Spring Drive west toward Sussex Village Park, a green swath of sports fields and resting places. Near mile 8 the vista widens into peaceful farmland and small prairies of Joe-Pye weed, sunflowers and swamp thistle. Red barns and silver silos dot the landscape. When a light breeze gathers over the fields, it carries the quintessential country aroma of wildflowers and farm animals.
An industrial rail line, still in use, runs adjacent to the trail through several miles of prairie and farmland. Keep a lookout for gopher holes at the edge of the trail; they can make for a suddenly bumpy ride. Soon, the prairie gives way to wetlands.
The trail skirts the edge of Mill Pond and arrives at Main Street in Merton. In addition to Lannon stone architecture, Merton offers up another Wisconsin specialty: frozen custard. Grab a creamy cone for a sweet end to your journey, or continue westward through Fireman's Park and Pollworth Park, where you’ll find picnic tables, a playground, and restrooms.
To access the Merton (western) trailhead: from SR 74, go onto W. Highway VV, which turns into Main Street. You'll find the trailhead on your right off of Main Street. Parking is also available in Pollworth Park, south of Bark River Road.