Mark Harrod was unaware of the Lower Yahara River Trail project when he moved to McFarland a month ago.

So when the 42-year-old music teacher found out about the 2.5-mile trail connecting McFarland to Madison, he came to check out Dane County’s newest bike path before its public opening Sunday.

A former resident of Belleville, Harrod would bike on the Badger State Trail to get to work at St. Maria Goretti Catholic School on Madison’s Southwest Side. But now, he’ll be able to cruise into the city and onto its vast bicycle path network for the first day of classes Monday and at the same time “avoid Beltline traffic,” he said.

The Lower Yahara River Trail, an $8 million project financed by Dane County and the federal government, connects McDaniel Park in McFarland to Lake Farm County Park in Madison. From there, it joins up with the Capital City Trail. A 1-mile segment is made up of floating boardwalks and bridges and offers views of Upper Mud Lake, Lake Waubesa and surrounding wetlands.

Dozens of bicycling enthusiasts and curious pedestrians of all ages, several ringing bells and honking horns in excitement, queued in line at McDaniel Park for the ribbon to be cut Sunday on the long-anticipated project.

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Lining up

A line forms waiting for the 2.5-mile Lower Yahara River Trail to officially open to the public.

As the crowd put tread to the trail with racing, dirt, cruiser and tandem bicycles, exclamations of “sweet,” “great” and “very nice” followed, while one child noted the area “smells like fish.”

For some, the Lower Yahara River Trail creates opportunities to travel to and from a village that did not have bicycle-friendly connectivity to Madison.

Mary Rodriguez, a McFarland resident, said she’s excited to avoid the “pain” of crossing intersections of U.S. Highway 51 to get to Downtown Madison or the UW-Madison campus.

“You’re going across two intersections where people are not expecting bikes,” Rodriguez said.

She estimates the new trail will save her 20 minutes to 30 minutes in travel time.

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Enjoying the ride

A bicyclist gives a thumbs up as an excited crowd took to the path Sunday.

Biking from Madison to McFarland, Erica and Eric Jones encountered a “parade” of people headed in the opposite direction on the boardwalk.

“I was impressed I stayed upright on my bike,” Eric Jones joked. “I usually don’t bike that slow.”

The couple, from Madison, has family members who live in McFarland, but visiting them presented challenges because neither of the Joneses own a car. The path now provides a safe option, Eric Jones said.

Mary Lou Brown, who moved to Madison from Denver about a year ago, said she looks forward to walking across the trail and taking her grandchildren to McDaniel Park.

“We’re big bike riders. We couldn’t wait for this to open,” said McFarland resident Sandy Dardis, who attended Sunday’s opening with her husband, Bill Stoneman. “We can connect to Madison trails instead of having to drag our bikes to Lake Farm Park all the time.”

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Logan Wroge has been a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal since 2015.