Most of us remember the famous quote in the wonderful movie "Field of Dreams" - "if you build it, they will come." The same can be said for the Fort Dodge-Webster County Trail System. Have you noticed how many people of all ages are out walking and riding on our new trails? As soon as a new section of our trail plan is built (and sometimes even before it is open), people are taking advantage of them. It is great to see so many people out walking, running or riding their bikes on our new trails.
In 1978, a petition sponsored by the Webster County-Fort Dodge Youth Commission and signed by 487 citizens was presented to the City Council asking the council to support a trail that would link the Soldier Creek Bridge in Fort Dodge to Harlan Rogers Park and John F. Kennedy Memorial Park. The cost of this trail in 1978 was estimated to be $150,000. Unfortunately, no action was taken so the Department of Transportation dropped the project. Then in 1995, another group of citizens led an effort to develop a trail to Harlan Rogers Park and Kennedy Park. They worked with the city and county and received regional funding; however, they could not find a feasible route so the project was terminated and the funds were returned.
In 2006, the board of the Development Corporation of Fort Dodge and Webster County established a task force with the goal of organizing an effort to regenerate interest in developing a comprehensive trail system plan. With this vision in mind, a Trails Advisory Board was organized and asked to develop one quality trail plan for Fort Dodge/Webster County and to identify resources and funding opportunities to bring the plan to fruition.
The Trails Advisory Board held its first meeting on Feb. 2, 2006. Since that time and following dozens of meetings, significant progress has been made. The Trails Advisory Board evaluated a number of different options for the trail. Based on costs, land acquisition issues and other logistical challenges, the board developed a comprehensive trail plan that offered the best option for a high quality, cost effective trail system.
In May 2009, the board landed its first significant grant - a $670,000 Regional Transportation Enhancement Funds grant. These funds help ignite our efforts to continue pursuing financial support for the trail system. In January 2011, a fundraising committee was formed to help raise $400,000 in private donations to help secure a $1.2 million Vision Iowa grant for the trail system project. More than 100 local businesses and citizens generously contributed and we reached our goal in less than three months. Pooling these funds with the Neil Smith Des Moines Recreation River and Greenbelt funding and support from the city and county, the fundraising arm of the Trails Advisory Board attained the necessary funding support for the 15-mile trail system plan, a $6.7 million project that serves as a model example of a successful public-private partnership.
When completed, this 15-mile, 10-foot-wide, concrete trail system will have connections to 30 community amenities including eight parks, plus neighborhoods, schools, the riverfront, the downtown center, three golf courses, Iowa Central Community College, Friendship Haven and Trinity Regional Medical Center.
Trail projects at a glance
The following projects are currently in the preliminary or final design phase and are scheduled to start construction in the spring of 2012. More than 11 miles of trail is planned to be completed next construction season.
College Trail (Kenyon Rd bridge to Tower Drive) -1.35 miles of 10 foot concrete trail.
Loomis Park Connection (near Hawkeye Bridge).
25th Avenue North - North 32nd Street to Woodlands Subdivision.
Orchard Glen - Through Orchard Glen Subdivision with connection to Soldier Creek Trail.
10th Avenue North - North 32nd Street to Fort Dodge Senior High School and St. Edmond School.
Golf Course Trail on Third Street.
Woodlands Connection (through Woodlands Subdivision) - On-street trail with signage and pavement markings.
Williams Drive - 20th Avenue North from North 15th Street to Williams Drive. And Williams Drive from Snell-Crawford Park to 20th Avenue North. On-street trail with signage and pavement markings.
Humane Society Trail - South 32nd Street from Fifth Avenue South to Humane Society.
Riverfront Trails (Army Corps of Engineers) - This is a 2.5 mile trail connection along the north side of the Des Moines River and around Sunkist Meadows Golf Course.
Sometimes progress can be slow and even hard to recognize, but persistence can pay off. On Oct. 15, a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrated the opening of a new 1.86 mile trail running from 15th Street to Harlan Rogers Park. Ongoing construction on a small trail section around Harlan Rogers Park will be completed this fall. Citizens may have also noticed the completion of a new trail/sidewalk along Wraywood Drive, as well as the trail/sidewalk along the Loomis Park hill on North Seventh Street. Combined with the new trail along 32nd Street, past the new Aquatics Park, almost four miles of new 10-foot-wide, concrete trails are now open to the public. It is exciting to see progress on Phase 1 of our comprehensive trail system, and this is just the beginning.
With funding now secured, progress on our new trails will be fast and furious. Next spring, trail system construction will begin again on a 2.74 mile trail from Harlan Rogers to Kennedy Park that will be completed in the summer of 2012. Once completed, trail users will be able to go from 15th street all the way out to Kennedy Park and connect to the 2.5 mile rock trail that goes around Badger Lake.
This phase of the trail system was made possible through the generous land donations and sales from the Beeh, Horn, and Christenson families. This important connection to Kennedy Park would not be possible without these civic-minded landowners that allowed the trail to pass through their property. The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation played a key role in securing these properties for the Conservation Board in 2009 which paved the way for state and federal grants. Additional trail projects will also begin in the spring/summer of 2012. A total of 11.3 miles of trail is planned to be completed next construction season.
Quality, well-maintained trails can promote safe and livable communities and can significantly contribute to the quality of life within a community. Trails are valued for their ability to connect people with places and to nature itself. They provide safe and enjoyable access to parks, natural areas and open green space. Trails can become a highly appreciated community asset and a source of community pride. When integrated with community features such as historical sites, parks, recreational facilities, schools, neighborhoods, etc., they can improve the overall character of a community. Trails encourage people to enjoy the outdoors and embrace the recreational opportunities they offer because people of all ages can use the trails for recreational biking, walking, running, and in the winter, cross country skiing.
Like the baseball field in the "Field of Dreams," part of the Fort Dodge-Webster County Trail System will run through Iowa cornfields. And when we build it, people will come.
Matt Cosgrove is director of Webster County Conservation. Randy Kuhlman is chief executive officer of the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way. Angela Torres is an associate planner with the Department of Business Affairs and Community Growth of the city of Fort Dodge.