The western end of the Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Riverwalk passes through cattails and marshland before reaching Cushing Memorial Park in Delafield.

The western end of the Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Riverwalk passes through cattails and marshland before reaching Cushing Memorial Park in Delafield. Photo By Chelsey Lewis

Delafield riverwalk honors veterans of U.S. wars through the centuries

Follow the trail on Veterans Day weekend

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Remember those who served our country this Veterans Day (Nov. 11) with a walk along the Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Riverwalk.

Situated along the Bark River in Delafield, the walk contains 10 memorial sites honoring veterans from each major conflict in U.S. history beginning with the American Revolution and up through the war on terror. Each site hosts a stone marker and informational signs commemorating the conflict. Some contain pavers engraved with names and remembrances, others host flags.

Officially opened in 2006, the project has been nearly a decade in the making. A group of volunteers led by Marily Gardner started the project, which involved securing a $183,000 grant and raising more than $300,000. Hundreds more volunteers helped remove invasive species and build boardwalk sections along the route.

Dick Niles, who has lived in Delafield for more than 25 years, was part of that volunteer committee and was charged with creating the extensive interpretive panels at each memorial site.

"It should be completed totally by next summer," said Niles, who holds bachelor's and master's degrees in history and has completed all the requirements for a PhD. "There's roughly five more interpretive panels; I'm working on two of them right now."

In addition to using his own knowledge of military history, Niles and the committee reached out to firsthand sources to build the riverwalk.

"We had a number of veterans on our committee and interviewed a number of veterans for the project," he said.

In the future, Niles hopes to work with the Delafield Public Library to build a more extensive website for the riverwalk that includes suggestions for further reading about the conflicts, then have those books available at the library.

Route: The official entrance to the riverwalk — which is entirely handicap accessible — is behind the 1907 stone Fish Hatchery building. But if you want to follow the less-than-one-mile path chronologically, start at the walk's eastern end near St. John's Park where the Bark River flows from Nagawicka Lake. There's a tiny parking lot at the park and more parking at the post office across the street.

The walk begins with the Revolutionary War. After passing a monument to the War of 1812, the path crosses the river via a charming wooden bridge. Before crossing, be sure to follow the short trail segment to see the Mexican War memorial.

Across the bridge is the walk's official entrance and a memorial dedicated to the bloodiest conflict fought on American soil, the Civil War, which claimed the lives of more than 600,000 Americans, including more than 12,000 Wisconsinites.

After the Civil War memorial, the path follows a boardwalk along the Delafield Fish Hatchery before reaching the Spanish-American War monument, then memorials for both world wars and the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Most of the riverwalk up to this point travels through patches of woods alongside the Bark River, but here the path becomes an elevated boardwalk through cattails and marshland along the river.

The final memorial to the Gulf War and the war on terror (the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) stands at the riverwalk's western end at Cushing Memorial Park, where there is also a peace garden with benches and an inscribed stone "dedicated to peace for the sons and daughters of all parents everywhere."

The park is a fitting end for the memorial walk. It's named after Delafield's William, Howard and Alonzo Cushing, who all fought in the Civil War. Alonzo was killed at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, at the age of 22 while defending his battery's position against Pickett's Charge despite being mortally wounded. A committee in Delafield has been working with Wisconsin representatives in Washington to award Cushing the Medal of Honor for his bravery.

The walk can be completed in as quickly as 15 minutes, or you can spend an hour or more reading the signs that are packed with interesting information about each conflict and reflecting on those who served.

While you're there: Stop for a sandwich on bread made with fresh-ground whole wheat from Great Harvest Bread Co. Try the Turkey & Swiss on Honey Whole Wheat, a delightfully simple bread made using just five ingredients. 603 Genesee St., Delafield; (262) 337-9023.

Take a spin along the Lake Country Recreation Trail, a 15-mile paved route that begins in Waukesha and runs through Oconomowoc. Pick up the trail just south of Cushing Park and pedal 6 miles west to Oconomowoc, a good turning-around point for a 12-mile round-trip ride.

Getting there: Access the Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Riverwalk at St. John's Park on Highway C in Delafield, about 30 miles west of Milwaukee via I-94.

More info: For more about the riverwalk, see the City of Delafield website.

Day Out features day trips within a two-hour drive of the Milwaukee area.

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