Wealthy Walker Donor’s State Forest Project Gets New Life

January 23, 2018

A controversial state forest bike trail and bridge project backed by a wealthy donor to Republican Gov. Scott Walker is getting new life.

At a meeting Wednesday, the Natural Resources Board plans to consider a revised 5.5-mile bike trail and bridge project sought by Elizabeth Uihlein in an undeveloped portion of the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest in Vilas County.

Uihlein, and her husband, Richard, are billionaire founders of Uline Corp. a Pleasant Prairie packaging supply company, and are part-time residents of Manitowish Waters. The Uihleins also own EAU Holdings, which runs a restaurant and lodge in Manitowish Waters, and is adjacent to state land the couple wanted to buy in 2015 from the Department of Natural Resources that would give them waterfront access. The sale was delayed after public criticism.

The original bike trail and bridge project was shelved by the board in October 2016 because of local opposition, but DNR officials are recommending that the board approve the latest plan.

In addition to the project revisions, a nonprofit group called Manitowish Waters Bike Trail Inc. plans to donate a gift of time and materials valued at $1.15 million to the DNR. The Uihleins donated about $986,500 in 2012 and 2013 to the group, records show.

The Uihleins are longtime contributors to conservative and Republican candidates and causes across the country. The couple is among Walker’s largest contributors, giving his gubernatorial campaign $319,500 between January 2009 and June 2017.

In addition, the Uihleins contributed $720,000 to the state Republican Party between January 2009 and June 2017, including $500,000 last May and June.