Brownstone Trail Historical Timeline

Conserving Wisconsin’s natural legacy for everyone...forever.

The Brownstone Trail is symbolic of the character of a community that values history, recreation, scenic views, and natural resources. The Trail provides us with critical connections — to Lake Superior, to parts of the community, and to one another.

We created a timeline of history for the Brownstone Trail. Scroll through the page and learn about the trail’s history and its future!

1883 - The First Train Arrives in Bayfield
1911 Railroad tracks running south from downtown Bayfield
1883 - The First Train Arrives in Bayfield

The first train arrives in Bayfield, Wisconsin on Friday, Oct. 12, 1883. At one time, three trains a day carried passengers, freight, mail and, later, lumber. Future plans for the railroad included connecting Bayfield with regional ports such as Duluth, Milwaukee, and Chicago.

Article: First Train Into Bayfield

Photo and article courtesy of Bayfield Heritage Association.

1924 - Railroad Reaches the End of its Useful Life
1920's Bayfield Railroad in winter with lumber cars stopped on the south end of town
1924 - Railroad Reaches the End of its Useful Life

The railroad tracks reach the end of their useful life. The final years of the railroad’s use leading up to 1924 is primarily for the transport of lumber for the Wachsmuth Lumber Company.

Article: Last Log Cut at Wachsmuth Mill

Photo and article courtesy of Bayfield Heritage Association.

1970 (September) - Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is Established
Apostle Islands Map
1970 (September) - Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is Established

The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore protecting the 22 islands near Bayfield, two of which can be seen from the Brownstone Trail, is established.

Excerpt from an article published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 30, 2020:

“In 1970, (Gaylord) Nelson got his nearly decade-long wish and 20 of the islands plus a 12-mile stretch of land along the Bayfield peninsula officially became the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Long Island was added in 1986, and in 2004, Nelson’s work to protect the islands was recognized when 80% of the land in the lakeshore was designated the Gaylord Nelson Wilderness — the highest protection for wild spaces within the national park system.”

Full Article: : No longer a Midwestern secret, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore celebrates 50 years

1970s - The Railroad is Abandoned
Brownstone Railroad Grade South Side of Bayfield
1970s - The Railroad is Abandoned

The railroad company fully abandons the Bayfield corridor. Portions of the line running from Hudson, Minnesota to Bayfield, Wisconsin remain intact and in use today. Once the railroad is abandoned, ownership of the parcels is granted to private landowners.

View: Hudson to Bayfield Railroad Line Map

Photo courtesy of Bayfield Heritage Association.

1996 - The Brownstone Trail is Established!
1996 Signing Brownstone Documents
1996 - The Brownstone Trail is Established!

The 2.25-mile Brownstone Trail is established through a partnership with private landowners who granted public access in the form of trail easements* held by Landmark Conservancy (previously Bayfield Regional Conservancy).

Article: Ashland Daily Press – December 2, 1997

*What is a Trail Easement?

A trail easement is a legally binding document granting public access to privately owned land. An easement is recorded with the title of the property and can be granted perpetually or for a finite period. Landmark Conservancy has worked with private landowners to secure 17 access easements which comprise most of the Brownstone Trail.

1996 - The Brownstone Trail is Named
Example of a piece of Brownstone
1996 - The Brownstone Trail is Named

The Brownstone Trail name is inspired by the dramatic brownstone cliffs that line the lakeshore.

Article: Naming the Brownstone Trail

2004 - Walk-through Kiosk Established at Trailhead
Original Brownstone Trailhead Walk-Through Kiosk
2004 - Walk-through Kiosk Established at Trailhead

The walk-through kiosk marking the start of the Brownstone Trail is constructed. The structure serves both as a landmark for those seeking the start of the trail in Bayfield, as well as a place for trail users to rest or remain current on trail happenings.

2004 (May) - Original Bridge is Installed
Workers Building the Brownstone Trail Bridge
2004 (May) - Original Bridge is Installed

An excerpt from a 2004 Conservancy newsletter notes:

“On May 11th, with the help of the city of Bayfield and donations of time and equipment by Randy Erickson’s C&W Trucking and Greg Carrier of Carrier Construction, an old flatbed semi-trailer was converted to a bridge across the longstanding washout near Vermont and Harriet Johnson’s home on Lakeshore Drive, just south of the city.”

2012 (Fall) through 2013 (Summer) - Trailhead Relocation Occurs
The new trailhead location near S. 3rd Street and Wilson Ave.
2012 (Fall) through 2013 (Summer) - Trailhead Relocation Occurs

The trailhead is relocated to its current location near South Third Street and Wilson Avenue making it easier to find.

2013 (June) - Native Plant Gardens Established
Workers creating the Brownstone Trail Native Plant Garden
2013 (June) - Native Plant Gardens Established

Native plant gardens are created by volunteers. Original seedlings are grown and contributed by local native plant propagator Becky Brown. The gardens provide an important biodiverse habitat for pollinators, and increase the soil’s capacity to hold water, thus reducing runoff and erosion into Lake Superior, and enhance the aesthetics and enjoyment for trail users. Annual spring workdays continue to engage volunteers in beautification and trail maintenance projects.

Article: Brownstone Trail Prairie Project Revisited

Photo and article courtesy of Art’s Bayfield Almanac.

2014 - Steel Bridge Constructed
Steel Bridge spanning a portion of the Brownstone trail
2014 - Steel Bridge Constructed

A Corten steel bridge is generously installed by Bill and Marilyn Van Sant to replace the previous bridge and enable bike and foot traffic to continue over a small yet deep ravine bisecting a portion of the trail just south of the Bayfield city limits. Though the bridge is privately owned, it offers an important extension of the trail.

2017 - 2018 Slumping
A portion of the hillside that has sloughed off into Lake Superior
2017 - 2018 Slumping
Slumping initially occurs on a portion of the trail close to the Seagull Bay Motel following nor’easter storms in October 2017 and continues to worsen throughout 2018.
2019 (Spring) - Land Donation
2019 student looking over fence barrier with yellow sign Trail Closed Due to Landslide
2019 (Spring) - Land Donation

Landmark Conservancy accepts a donation of the portion of the trail that has been actively slumping since 2017. The donation gave Landmark the ability to begin to explore long term solutions to stabilize and restore the slump site. The trail is closed between Seagull Bay Motel and Lakeshore Drive. Due to safety concerns, a reroute is established using a portion of Highway 13 to connect the two intact areas of trail.

2019 (Summer) – 2020 (Spring) - Engineering Study
2019 (Summer) – 2020 (Spring) - Engineering Study

Landmark Conservancy engaged coastal engineering firm SmithGroup to understand the underlying causes of the slumping and identify options for restoration and stabilization. A Brownstone Trail Ad-hoc Advisory Committee made up of local residents is established by Landmark Conservancy. The group meets regularly to support actions to bring the trail back to full use.

2020 (Spring) - Community Input Survey
2020 (Spring) - Community Input Survey

Landmark Conservancy and the Ad-Hoc Advisory Committee circulated a survey to community members to learn how trail users engage with the Brownstone Trail and to gauge what locals and visitors know about the slump site.

2020 (Summer) - Virtual Community Meeting
2020 (Summer) - Virtual Community Meeting

A virtual community meeting is conducted by Landmark Conservancy to educate people on the causes of lakeshore slumping, options to address lakeshore slumping, and to identify next steps for the slump site.

2020 (Summer) - Reroute Signs Posted
Map showing the reroute onto HWY 13 around the slump area
2020 (Summer) - Reroute Signs Posted

Temporary signage is posted along the reroute to help guide users. Trail barriers are improved around the slump area enhanced as the site continues to erode and provide a hazard.

View Full-Size Map

2020 (Fall) - Local Contractor Discussions
2020 (Fall) - Local Contractor Discussions

Landmark Conservancy conferred with local contractors including C&W Trucking to explore whether placement of large rock on the currently slumped slope would be suitable. As described in SmithGroup’s assessment, the slope is currently too steep to support the placement of rock.

 

  • SmithGroup’s report notes a potential short-term option involves placing large rock at the toe of the bank (with permission from local contractor and adjacent landowner Kenny Dobson and as permitted by regulatory agencies) and reshaping the lower and upper slopes (on Landmark Conservancy and landowner Maki properties) to a more gradual angle to increase stability and reduce erosion.
  • Also noted in the SmithGroup report is a longer-term option: purchase the Maki property located above the slump, providing the ability to relocate the trail on top of the slope, and creating a public community space along with another point of direct trail access.
2020 (Winter) - Improved Barriers
2020 (Winter) - Improved Barriers

Landmark Conservancy, in coordination with volunteers, again improved the trail barrier on the north end of the closed section to address safety concerns. Improved signage is placed to further communicate to locals and visitors about the rerouting of the Brownstone Trail.

2021 (Spring) - Maki Property Appraisal
View from HWY 13 looking at the various buildings on the Maki Property
2021 (Spring) - Maki Property Appraisal

An appraisal of the Maki property is initiated. The appraisal provides an independent, unbiased assessment of the property’s value.

2021 (Fall) - Shoreline Assessment
Presentation slide showing the factors of shoreline and bluff erosion
2021 (Fall) - Shoreline Assessment

To better understand natural resource conditions, land management concerns, and the long-term sustainability of the Brownstone Trail, Northland College conducted a comprehensive assessment of the shoreline adjacent to the trail corridor. The report is finalized and a public presentation conducted on January 15, 2022.

Article: View Presentation

2022 (Spring ) - Purchase Agreement Signed with Maki Family
2022 (Spring ) - Purchase Agreement Signed with Maki Family
The purchase of the property is scheduled to close in late 2022, pending successful fundraising. The negotiation of the purchase agreement was made possible thanks to owners Dan and Mark Maki in coordination with Landmark Conservancy. Landmark Conservancy will be working with experts to restore the slope and relocate the trail from the slumped area to higher ground. The multi-year project of trail restoration will occur simultaneously to a transition by the Makis to another site.

Thank You Volunteers!

Landmark Conservancy and the greater Bayfield Community thank all of the volunteers who have contributed time and funding to the creation and maintenance of the trail over the years! There are way too many photos and additional workdays/projects for this timeline to be exhaustive, though here are a few photos of volunteers getting their hands dirty!

A group of volunteers working on the Brownstone Trail
A group of volunteers working on the Brownstone Trail
A group of volunteers working on the Brownstone Trail
A group of volunteers working on the Brownstone Trail
A group of volunteers working on the Brownstone Trail
A group of volunteers working on the Brownstone Trail
A group of volunteers working on the Brownstone Trail A group of volunteers working on the Brownstone Trail A group of volunteers working on the Brownstone Trail A group of volunteers working on the Brownstone Trail A group of volunteers working on the Brownstone Trail A group of volunteers working on the Brownstone Trail