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If you’re going to visit the historical communities that lie just west of Lake Michigan, why not use the former route of the venerable interurban railroad? The Ozaukee Interurban Trail stretches the length of Ozaukee County and links communities known for a lighthouse, Civil War–era downtowns, surviving railroad depots and gristmills, as well as a popular 1920s recording studio for Mississippi Delta blues singers.
The 30-mile paved trail passes through Belgium, Port Washington, Grafton, Cedarburg, Thiensville, and Mequon. It mostly follows the route of a Milwaukee–Sheboygan interurban railway launched in 1908 and taken over in 1922 by the Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Company as a rapid-transit line. Falling victim to the declining rail business after World War II, the owner terminated the line in 1948. The corridor still carries the power lines, operated today by We Energies, and by 1975 a few towns used the rights-of-way as trails. The Ozaukee Interurban Trail combined these in 2002.
The trail connects with the Brown Deer Recreational Trail in the south and the Sheboygan Interurban Trail in the north. It runs alongside railroad tracks most of the distance. Unlike most rail-trails, this one has steeper than normal grades as it enters and leaves Port Washington.
Beginning in the north at County Road K, you’ll immediately realize why the trail is known for its birding hot spots; it starts at the Cedar Grove Waterfowl Production Area, a wetland habitat for sandhill cranes, green heron, and more. You’ll pass through the small town of Belgium in 3 miles (where the closest public parking to the northern endpoint is available at the Community Park on Beech Street) and then through another 6 miles of farm country to the outskirts of Port Washington.
The trail heads downhill after you cross I-43 and arrive at the harbor on East Jackson Street. A bustling port since Civil War times and now a tourist destination, its centerpiece is the 1930s Art Deco lighthouse out on the breakwater. Follow the bike route signs on city streets for 1.5 miles uphill to regain the Ozaukee Interurban Trail on West Oakland Avenue between South Park and South Spring Streets.
You’ll pass through open country for 5 miles until you cross the Milwaukee River and enter Grafton. You’ll have to pass through this old mill town on a mile of city streets, too, but this won’t be a problem if you’re a music lover. In the 1920s, Grafton was home to Paramount Records, a leading recorder of early Delta blues artists such as Charley Patton and Blind Lemon Jefferson. Their music is celebrated in a statue and piano keyboard–style Walk of Fame in Paramount Plaza, located a block from the bike route on Wisconsin Avenue between Beech and Bridge Streets.
Returning to the trail on Seventh Avenue between Maple Street and Wisconsin Avenue, you’ll pass through residential areas for the next 2 miles to a restored trestle over Cedar Creek in Cedarburg. The downtown has developed a vibrant tourism economy; many buildings, such as the woolen mill, date to the Civil War era. On Center Street, watch for the cream-colored brick 1907 railroad depot; it’s the last building related to the railway on the trail.
It’s about 5 miles to Thiensville, and about halfway there you’ll cross over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. Another 3 miles reaches the Brown Deer Recreational Trail, which joins the Oak Leaf Trail and goes all the way to Milwaukee’s downtown waterfront.
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