Fox Wisconsin Heritage Parkway

A non-profit organization dedicated to the improvement and preservation of the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers.

Learn more about Chapter 5: Evaluation of National Significance, Suitability & Feasibility

Chapter 5: Evaluation of National Significance, Suitability & Feasibility

Management Alternatives

Evaluation of the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway requires an honest look at what difference a NHA designation will make for this region. We have a great deal of community led redevelopment already taking place in parts of the system. For the first time in decades, we are witnessing communities voluntarily turning toward the water once again, and looking to capitalize on prime waterfront property when it becomes available due to closure of manufacturing sites by developing mixed use with public access. We have groups dedicated to water quality and habitat restoration working with the WDNR. We have other organizations dedicated to improving the recreational quality of the river, refurbishing parks and connecting pieces of trail already in place. So what would it mean to the Heritage Parkway if we do not get a federal designation? We turned to one of our working committees for this question and broke up our analysis into five categories: trail development, natural/cultural resources, interpretive programming, economic development, and tourism.


The citizens of Wisconsin have a lot to be proud of throughout the Fox-Wisconsin corridor; there are many municipalities, private businesses, and non-profits taking it upon themselves to preserve the corridor’s heritage where possible. Those programs will most likely continue at some level, though with the economic downturn we are now experiencing, it is more difficult for the smaller entities to stay viable.

Trail Development

Trails are becoming more and more important to people in Wisconsin and their value is seen across all sections of our population. Cities, villages, towns, and counties along the river corridor are realizing this and are including trails in their strategic plans. Non-profit citizen advocacy groups active in the corridor, include Fox Cities Greenways, Friends of the Fox River State Trail, Friends of the Mountain Bay State Trail, Friends of the Newton Blackmour State Trail, Good Neighbor Committee, Wolf Run Association, Friends of High Cliff State Park, the Niagara Escarpment Resource Network, and Green Lake Greenways. All are working to increase the miles of trails offered to the citizens in their piece of the state. They will continue that effort undoubtedly, as their passion and energy run deep. They attempt to coordinate efforts in order to connect trails along their borders, but have no system in place to be efficient in that practice.

Current land trail segments include: Effigy Mounds National Monument trails, Black Earth Creek Regional Recreation Trail, the Mountain Bay State Trail, Fox River State Trail, Aldo Leopold Legacy Trail System, Duck Creek State Trail, Newton Blackmour State Trail, Paper Trail, Newberry Trail, North Island Trail, Trestle Trail, Friendship Trail, WIOUWASH State Trail, the Niagara Escarpment’s “Trail Between the Parks” (in planning stages), Mascoutin Valley Trail, Wolf Wilderness Recreation Trail, Wild Goose State Trail, Peebles Trail, Prairie Trail, Ice Age National Scenic Trail, and Pine River Trail.

Friends of the Fox, in conjunction with Fox Cities Greenways and Northeast Wisconsin Paddlers are working to create a water trail throughout the Lower and Upper Fox. This initiative is locally led, widely supported, and will be created with a combination of local funding and volunteer hours. The Wolf Run Association is seeking to establish an environmental corridor and water trail from the dam on Black Earth Creek to the Wisconsin River.

Currently, there is no group looking to develop land or water trails along the entire Fox-Wisconsin River corridor, nor to develop cohesive signage, design, theme or promotion. No single document exists or is being produced that lists all the trails available along the entire system.

Natural/Cultural Resources

There are many natural and cultural resources currently found within the Parkway. Most of the natural resources are owned and managed by the WDNR. These include one National Wildlife Refuge, one state riverway, twenty-nine natural areas, six state wildlife areas, five National Natural Landmarks, and five state parks. Additionally, there are over 3,500 Nationally Registered Historic Sites, 7 National Historic Landmarks, and many other local landmarks, historic properties, and museums that work to preserve the history of this region.

The numerous programs and activities already in place related to these resources of the Fox-Wisconsin area will most likely continue. Many cultural resources are having a difficult time sustaining themselves during this economic time due to lower attendance and contribution levels, but it is assumed that the majority will survive.

Natural and cultural resource programs are found at different levels. Federally led programs include the National Register of Historic Places, National Historic Landmark, National Scenic Trail, National Monument, and National Natural Landmark program. State programs, such as the State Historical Register of Historic Properties, state park system, wildlife areas, and state riverway, provide resource protection and programming throughout the corridor. Additionally, many county and municipal programs exist, sustaining trails, parks, and water programs. Private sector organizations, such as FLOW, Friends of the Fox, the John Muir Society, Fox Cities and Green Lake Greenways, and others, help to promote rivers, recreational space, and conservation programming.

Following are some examples of resources owned and operated by the various levels. A more complete listing is found in Appendix B.

  • Federally supported efforts include: the Niagara Escarpment NPS Greenway Plan, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, and the Great River Road National Scenic Byway.
  • Other governmental efforts include: the Oneida Nation Museum, and the Effigy Mounds National Monument.
  • State programs include: Heritage Hill State Historical Park, Fox River Navigational System, High Cliff State Park, Mounds State Park, and Villa Louis Historic Site.
  • Locally led programs include: Hazelwood House Museum, Grignon Mansion, Indian Agency House, and Fort Crawford Museum.
  • Private sector efforts include: The Hearthstone, Paine Lumber Company Historic District, Fort Crawford Surgeon’s Quarters, Fountain Lake Farm, Aldo Leopold Shack and Farm, and Taliesin.

With some of these current programs and resources struggling, saving additional resources is unlikely. Organizations and communities are having difficulties justifying the saving of a structure when faced with a viable economic development project.

Interpretive Programming

Specific sites do some historical programming now. These include such places as Heritage Hill State Historical Park, the Paper Discovery Center, Taliesin, Villa Louis, the Fort Crawford Museum, and many others along the length of the corridor. Each of these sites focus on a particular aspect of the Parkway’s history. Heritage Hill explores life in colonial Wisconsin, the Paper Discovery Center focuses on the Fox Valley’s paper industry, and Taliesin offers a glimpse into the architectural and preservation work of Frank Lloyd Wright. They provide a variety of programming, such as interpretive tours, exhibits, reenactments, talks, and hands on activities and events. Additionally, most communities have local historical societies. Many of these operate museums, and others host events, educational activities, and produce publications.

While there are many interpretive programs within the Parkway, none deal with the Marquette and Joliet route of discovery. Many are struggling to keep existing hours of operation. There is no cohesive design or plan to the programming, no central marketing system, and very little cross promotion.

Economic Development

Larger communities along the river are attempting their own economic development and redevelopment of former manufacturing sites. In Green Bay, the entire segment of downtown riverfront is transforming underused space into public use, housing and commercial development. In Appleton, the riverfront redevelopment plan has been implemented and three major brownfield sites have been cleaned up with new public use and commercial spaces now open. Oshkosh and Fond du Lac have improved their waterfront areas with parks and public access sites. Neenah, Menasha, and Portage have likewise improved public and commercial spaces to take advantage of the river. In all, the communities have invested over $50 million in the various projects completed to date and will invest at least another $50 million in the next ten years of riverfront redevelopment. The impact of this focus is greater use, attractiveness and public access throughout our corridor.

Some regional coordination takes place thanks to the ECWRPC, Bay Lakes Regional Planning, and Southwest Regional Planning Commissions but there is little or no cross marketing or corridor-wide information available on the new opportunities developed within the Parkway. Without further coordination these initiatives will continue to develop individually and great opportunity will be foregone for greater impact of these exciting projects.


Currently, there are numerous tourism draws within the corridor, but there is very little coordination. There is no thought to linking one attraction to another from town to town. Each community—of which there are over forty-five within the proposed Parkway boundaries—has their own set of plans, their own vision, and their own fundraising effort. Cross-promotion rarely exists. Many are individually successful, such as the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, Lambeau Field, EAA, numerous fishing tournaments, and the Winnebago pool lakes themselves. Many more are small and moderately successful, with no plan for increasing tourism draws.

The concept of the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway has been around for decades, and brings with it a spark of hope, a new way to work together to reach a larger potential clientele. Without the federal designation, it will be more difficult to bind these unique areas together to create substantial movement toward unification of purpose and message. The feasibility study has been instrumental in broaching the concept to the communities and has given a tangible goal to work toward and revitalized people’s interest and belief that something is actually going to be created.


The NPS defines a NHA as “…a place designated by Congress where natural, cultural, historic and scenic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally distinctive landscape arising from patterns of human activity shaped by geography. These patterns make NHAs representative of the national experience through the physical features that remain and the traditions that have evolved in them. Continued use of NHAs by people whose traditions helped to shape the landscapes enhances their significance.” The focus is on the protection and conservation of critical resources—the natural, cultural, scenic, and historic resources that have shaped us as a nation and as communities. Heritage areas are a way to celebrate the richness of our national heritage.

Congress must designate NHAs. They are typically authorized for a 10 to 15 year period and include limited federal financial assistance which has been in the range of $18,000 and $148,000 a year for new NHAs. However, the designation does not necessarily bring money because there is currently no NHA system within the NPS, which means there is no budget process for the NHA program. Instead, the funds are allocated through the earmark process and vary widely from year to year. Ideally, this will change in the near future and NHAs will be given an actual budget system within the NPS. The Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway will support this change in whatever way it is able. Until that point, however, the earmarked monies will be accepted, with the realization that the intent of this federal investment is to provide seed money that can be leveraged locally for the preservation and interpretation of heritage area resources.

The designating legislation also authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to provide technical assistance to the heritage area through its managing entity. This technical assistance helps the local management to develop a comprehensive plan for the heritage area. The plan contains strategies for natural and cultural resource protection; plans for interpretation of resources based on themes for the area; and a methodology for including various public and private partners in its implementation.

Lastly, the designation brings with it an official national recognition which comes immediately after the legislation is signed by the President. This national recognition is by far the most important and significant piece of the designation. It will lend credibility to all efforts targeted on the whole river corridor, and will show definitive progress being made on this project which was first conceived over a decade ago. It may result in more groups and individuals getting involved. The designation will be the glue that is able to bind the many pieces of non-contiguous green space, trails, historic sites, and local stories together into one significant region with a common vision.

Trail Development

Because of the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway, Friends of the Fox, Fox Cities Greenways, Winneconne Walks, Friends of the Mountain Bay Trail, and others will be able to be brought together to explore their piece of their own mission which pertains to corridor trails. This will allow them to work together to develop and promote a unique trail which explores the river while bringing alive the stories of local history. Cohesive signage, design, theme, and documentation will be created along the entire system. This unique prospect requires the partnership of all of these groups and will greatly enhance the interest in and use of the Heritage Parkway trail.

Likewise, though the water trail will be created with or without the designation, its creation will be more easily coordinated along the entire length of the Heritage Parkway when overseen by one management entity.

Natural/Cultural Resources

Heritage areas have been successful in protecting and restoring historic sites, and in providing better public understanding and appreciation of local history. Cohesiveness and partnership will work to help all resources better survive. Resources will be sought after together instead of competed for; the region applying together will hold more leverage on grants for federal or state money. Local interests will see the benefit of Heritage Parkway as a regional draw and will more likely support projects outside of their immediate borders.

The most significant impact a NHA will have on natural resources comes from the creation of a comprehensive plan for the use of the 350 acres of land that once belonged to the Army Corps of Engineers, which is now in the hands of the WDNR and the FRNSA. This is public land not currently in public use, and the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway has long been seen as the entity which would bring it into its rightful place.

The conservation element will also have impact, most probably on water quality and habitat issues.

Interpretive Programming

Upon designation as an NHA, the technical assistance given to Parkway organizations by the NPS will allow for development of interpretive programming, static and active, that can be used in existing facilities, on signage and interactive kiosks located along the corridor’s river banks. These programming facilities will be theme related and will serve to not only bring the history and stories alive, but also bring additional pride to area residents regarding the specialness of their home. Boat tours could be developed, historical reenactments, booklets, public television spots, as well as other ideas will be explored and developed and coordinated by the managing entity. Other NHA’s experiences and resources will be used as reference, to help ensure success. The potential is limitless and inspiring.

Economic Development

An NHA designation for the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway will enhance the corridor’s socioeconomic environment by enhancing tourism, elevating awareness and increasing residents’ pride of place. The ability to infuse resources into marketing, coordinated programming, the redevelopment of buildings, and creation of linked open spaces is the backbone to the socioeconomic benefit of a designation. Too many opportunities are foregone due to lack of sufficient technical support and capital funding. The ability to gain necessary support to take advantage of the opportunities present in the Parkway will be greatly enhanced with the NHA designation. Local and national recognition of the Parkway as a unified entity will add to the prestige of individual components resulting in greater appeal for both public and private funding. Each leg of this corridor has significant importance and interest; however, the combined assets of the corridor far out weigh the individual assets. The socioeconomic benefit will manifest itself in better appreciation, greater recognition and improved stewardship of our cultural resources.

The increased pride of place will also serve to lessen the “brain drain” that the State of Wisconsin is experiencing. Providing passive and active recreation opportunities will help the state compete for future employees, which will in turn encourage corporations to remain in, or locate to, this area.


The Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway NHA will improve tourism quality attracting more local and distant visitors to the corridor. Development of the themes for the Parkway and expanded marketing for theme related opportunities will result in greater appeal and higher visibility for attractions. Current, in progress enhancements will drive more tourism in the region; however, the NHA designation will package and promote the themes so more people will benefit from the story the Parkway has to tell.


A NHA designation for the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway will provide an umbrella under which many organizations are able to come together to create a common vision that is based on our unique history and the gift of our abundant natural resources. It will provide a viable strategy for future protection of the critical resources found within the corridor. The designation is needed most, not to encourage redevelopment as that is already happening, but to encourage preservation of our history and our nature. A unifying and broad purpose is needed to accomplish this task, and the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway is the vehicle that will deliver this purpose from the ideas of individuals to the concept shared by many.