A handful of children in a Riteway bus hung out of the window Friday afternoon as the bus passed a city ceremony underway along Huntington Avenue.
“Is this a wedding?” one boy shouted from the bus window.
It was, in a way.
The ceremony, which dedicated a paved 1.2-mile bike trail extension through Northeast Regional Park on the city’s far east side, was the marriage of two subdivisions that for years have been split by the hilly, wooded 87-acre park.
Until recently, Northeast Regional Park has had only narrow nature paths coursing through it. City park officials say it’s underused, and relatively few people outside of the northeast neighborhoods know it’s a city park—not simply a hilly woods.
Now, a new black asphalt trail rises and falls along the rolling glacial landscape of the park’s open meadows and prairie plots, past a set of kettle ponds and into dense woods.
The ceremony for the $700,000 trail extension included the renaming of Northeast Regional Park. A new sign unveiled Friday at a trailhead along Huntington Avenue reads “Sheiffer Park,” in honor of retired longtime City Manager Steve Sheiffer.
Sheiffer managed city affairs during the late 1980s through the early 2000s, an era when the city began dramatically expanding its trail systems that link parks together for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Gwen Jordan lives near the trail and has already used it. She was out walking on the new asphalt Friday with her Chihuahua mix, Daisy.
Jordan said she’s excited about the trail. It will give her and a few relatives who live on the other side of the wooded park a quick, convenient way to visit each other, she said.
Janesville Parks Director Cullen Slapak said contractors have spent three months building the trail extension, starting at where the existing trail ended at Sandhill Drive and continuing it to East Rotamer Road.
He said wet fall weather has hampered some grading and landscaping work, and the trail won’t officially open until spring.
Slapak said the new trail is viewed as a link to the existing network of bike paths in other wooded city parks, but it has one unusual aspect: Engineers tried to give it a more meandering, natural feel by allowing it to follow the hilly contours of the park.