Brownstone Trail Historical TimelineConserving 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!
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Photo courtesy of Bayfield Heritage Association.
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).
*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.
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.
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.”
The trailhead is relocated to its current location near South Third Street and Wilson Avenue making it easier to find.
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.
Photo and article courtesy of Art’s Bayfield Almanac.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
An appraisal of the Maki property is initiated. The appraisal provides an independent, unbiased assessment of the property’s value.
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
On Saturday, November 12, Bayfield Area Trails and Landmark Conservancy volunteers provide essential work on the trail. The productive workday established a new temporary reroute through the Maki property, allowing trail-users to circumvent the reroute detour alongside Highway 13.
Article: New Safer Re-route in Place
Landmark purchased the Maki property on the Brownstone Trail in Bayfield on December 30th as planned! Thank you to all the donors who helped us reach this important benchmark in our Phase 1 fundraising campaign. Landmark has our sights set on the next step – slope and trail design – for which we are continuing to raise funds.
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!