The Gold Star Memorial Trail in Dodge County, Wisconsin, offers residents and visitors a safe, new, non-motorized path for recreational and transportation use. More importantly, it offers users the opportunity to reflect upon and honor the sacrifices of local individuals who have lost their lives in military service.
The term Gold Star is a reference to the service flags and pennants that often hang in the windows or front porches of homes when a household member is serving in the Armed Forces of the United States during a period of war or hostility. The flags generally feature a blue star for each individual in active service. If the loved one loses their life in combat, the blue star is replaced with a gold one – a reflection of ultimate reverence and sacrifice.
The Gold Star Memorial Trail project is also special in that it is largely a grassroots initiative, supported by Dodge County Gold Star families and bolstered by generous local support from residents, The Friends of Dodge County Parks, Inc., the Dodge County Parks Department and a grant from the Wisconsin DNR.
A five-phase endeavor, the trail is a 10-foot-wide, paved, non-motorized route for pedestrians, bicyclists, and other multi-modal users of all abilities, connecting the communities of Mayville, Horicon and Beaver Dam. The goal is to promote recreational, economic and tourism development, as well as healthy lifestyles. It will be available for year-round use including snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter, and will feature memorials placed along the trail to honor and remember local heroes who have lost their lives in service.
Phase I of the project consisted of a 2.1-mile section from Theiler Park in Mayville to the Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center, with right of way running along the north side of State Highway 28. MSA provided consulting, design, bidding and construction services for this portion of the trail. The scope of services included the assessment of impacts to natural resources and wildlife habitat, a review of ADA accessibility, wetland and environmental delineations, and design services to accommodate existing infrastructure, a special concerns stream and known historical effigy mounds.
Construction of Phase I began in February of 2018 and was completed in November of 2018, with finishing touches including signage, benches, trail head kiosks and memorials installed in the spring of 2019. The community gathered for a ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony on Saturday, June 1, 2019. Attendees were invited to participate in a group walk/ride/roll along the Gold Star Memorial Trail, with Gold Star families leading the way.
Phase II of the project will involve construction of 3.4 miles of trail from Whitty Park in Horicon to the Wild Goose State Trail. Phase III proposes an additional 6.5 miles stretching from the Wild Goose State Trail to Vo-Tech Park in Beaver Dam. Routes are still being evaluated and finalized. Phase IV—a marked, 2.1-mile path through the City of Horicon from Palmatory Point to Whitty Park—has already been completed. Phase V is an upgrade to an existing DNR trail through the Horicon Marsh from the Visitor Center into the City of Horicon.
The Gold Star Memorial Trail is a model project. It encourages the celebration of life and respect for sacrifices made, while promoting well-being, health, and family-friendly fun for all ages and abilities. Since 1991, Dodge County has lost six service members from the communities that will ultimately be linked by this trail – a trail that promises to connect military families in more ways than one.