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Walking path and railroad next to lake

Lower Yahara River Trail Phase 1


Dane County residents and officials wanted to create a shared-use trail to connect McDaniel Park through the Capital Springs Recreation Areas to the Capital City Trail in Madison. The trail would parallel an active railroad and be required to span areas of open water, wetlands and soft soils.

For many years, the concept of a shared-use trail was on the minds of many Dane County residents and local officials. The location of the project itself was an enormous challenge during construction. Approximately half of the lakespan boardwalk is completely over water, while the remainder traverses wetland, archeological sites and soft soils.


In 2017, the plan became reality on the first phase of the Lower Yahara River Trail (LYRT) project. Construction of the 2.5-mile Lower Yahara Trail project first involved constructing the above grade boardwalk. The boardwalk then met the at-grade sections of the trail. The two different grade sections of the trail were constructed simultaneously. To accomplish this, the construction team coordinated operations and schedules to continually evaluate the project’s progression.

Structural supports needed to be in place to support the boardwalk/bridge system. The boardwalk/bridge system includes three different types of structures – floating boardwalk, helical pile boardwalk and prefabricated bridge span structures. The prefabricated bridge spans were placed on concrete piers were supported by cast in place (CIP) concrete steel piling.

Several sections of prefabricated steel bridge spans were constructed over water, requiring crews to work off barges and an adjacent causeway.

The centerpiece of Phase 1 is a nearly one-mile long boardwalk/bridge that parallels an active railroad line located on the north shore of Lake Waubesa between Madison and McFarland and features a unique, ADA-accessible fishing pier. The new trail connects McDaniel Park through the Capital Springs Recreation Areas to the Capital City Trail in Madison. SEH was tasked with the construction aspects of the project, which would soon feature the longest elevated boardwalk in the State of Wisconsin.

The 2.5-mile trail creates a new venue for bicyclists and pedestrians of all abilities to enjoy the natural beauty of the area in a safe and accessible environment, and the elevated structure is among the longest elevated structures in the United States constructed solely for bicycle/pedestrian use. Of note, as SEH and the greater team sought to also better the community environmentally, the recycled materials used to build the boardwalk kept 1.7 million plastic bottle out of landfills.


  • 2019 Best of State Award | American Council of Engineering Companies, Wisconsin Chapter (ACEC-WI)
  • 2018 Best Projects Awards Award of Merit, Small Project (Under $10 million) | Engineering News Record (ENR) Midwest
  • 2017 Top Project | Daily Reporter – Wisconsin Construction News Source

Lower Yahara River Trail Phase 1

Dane County, Wisconsin

Wisconsin DOT Southwest Region


  • 2.5 miles of trail
  • 1.6 miles of paved at-grade paths
  • 32 bridge spans
  • 1 million annual trail users
  • Longest boardwalk in Wisconsin


  • Construction Administration