Walking and biking trails development is taking shape in Harrison County to bring more outdoor recreational opportunities to residents and tourists in the county, with some of the projects’ completion dates culminating in 2019.
A Harrison County Trails steering committee meeting was held on Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. at the Harrison County Conservation Board Headquarters at Willow Lake Recreation Area near Woodbine.
Scott Nelson, HCCB Director, and Jeremy Butrick, Harrison County GIS Coordinator, hosted the meeting.
Nelson reviewed the work done in the past year, including three public input sessions, which led to priority trail maps that were then color-coded to illustrate the priorities and the surface, whether hard or soft.
“More and more people came together and said that these are the spots where trails make sense,” Nelson said of the highest priority trails. “We classified them into two different pieces, a hard trail and a soft trail.”
Hard surface trails are either paved or graveled, according to Nelson, while soft surface trails are earthen.
“The goal is to, with the encouragement of the National Park Service, have the Board of Supervisors approve and adopt those into their master plan,” Nelson added. “The Board of Supervisors did; they approved them.”
Nelson added that the board values trails for how they connect communities, their economic impact, and the health benefit they offer to citizens and visitors.
“Hikers tend to be people who have discretionary cash that they bring with them, and they spend it in the little communities,” Nelson said, “along with providing safe routes for people to recreate on, enjoy the fresh air, and get some exercise.”
Ongoing and current trails projects in the county were highlighted, including signage along trails that share the highways, such as the Lewis and Clark Today route and the Easton Trail, and hiking trails through the Loess Hills, such as Brent’s Trail, which is an earthen trail project near Little Sioux, from Gleason-Hubel Wildlife Area to Murray Hill Scenic Overlook.
“We have been talking about some major trails that take major implementation, and we have heard from Brian (Leaders, National Parks Service Rivers, Trails & Conservation) that some things aren’t easy. Some things take some trials, tribulations, time, and patience,” Nelson said. “This is not one of those. It has taken advantage of property that is already owned between the county, conservation board, and the Loess Hills State Forest – it’s called Brent’s Trail.”
Nelson explained that the trail was named after Brent Olson, a longtime forester with the Loess Hills State Forest.
“Him and I talked about, years ago, a connecting trail between Murray Hill (Scenic Overlook) and Gleason-Hubel (Wildlife Area) and taking advantage of the state property in between,” Nelson said.
Enter Loess Hills Missouri River Region, a collective region between Harrison, Mills, and Pottawattamie Counties. He introduced Brent’s Trail to that committee and was awarded Dean J. King Family Foundation grant funding for signage along that trail.
West Harrison shop class students will cut metal oak leaves out for the signage, according to Nelson, and GPS coordinates will be available on the HCCB website as well.
“We know we have something special with the Loess Hills,” Nelson said. “This spring we are going to have a dedication and opening of an eight-mile overland trail.”
Brent’s Trail is not for the faint of heart, according to Nelson, who added that, in addition to the rugged, natural terrain, there is nearly 400 feet of vertical change along the trail.
“It is a challenge, but it is pretty cool. It is all natural, though it does take advantage or ridge tops, deer trails, and cattle runs,” Nelson said. “At this point in time it is just foot traffic.”
Nelson added that at some point, the trail might be usable for cycling and horse riding as well.
Other high-priority projects include the Lewis and Clark Today Route, a 209-mile on-road shared bicycle route that extends from Stone State Park in Woodbury County, north of Sioux City, to Hamburg in the southwestern corner of the state.
“It kind of emulates Lewis and Clark’s discovery route,” Nelson said. “It takes advantage of roadways and utilizes the existing infrastructure – roads. It’s the first state-designated bike route in the state of Iowa, and it is recognized as high-priority during the public input sessions.”
Nelson said that completion of Harrison County’s piece of that trail, which traverses through six Iowa counties, is planned for 2019.
“The idea is for each county to work toward developing off-road trails through the county and change the signage off of the shared-use routes to the trail routes for a multi-use trail route,” Leaders said.
The Easton Trail, from Woodbine to Willow Lake, should also be completed this coming year with signage going up along the five-mile trail due to a $6,000 Dean J. King Family Foundation grant.
This share-the-road bicycle route is a joint venture between HCCB, Golden Hills Resource Conservation and Development, and Woodbine Main Street.
“Willow Lake is the county’s largest recreation area and the nearest town is Woodbine,” Nelson said. “Believe it or not, there are people that ride the roadway between. It is a share-the-road trail, and we are making motorists aware that there are bicycles moving around.”
Eventually, that trail may extend to Pisgah or further, according to Nelson.
The final high-priority trail discussed was the Highway 191 connection, seven miles connecting Pottawattamie and Shelby Counties through Persia and the Tri-Center School District.
“This route will tie into a national east-west route, in addition to the American Discovery Trail that comes over and heads south into Atlanta,” Leaders said.
Up next for the group is to formalize the steering committee, Nelson said, as well as investigate the potential for a Trails Advisory Board and research grant opportunities.
Currently, the Dean J. King Family Foundation and the Harrison County Community Foundation are two of the grants that have been identified. Other potential funding partners include the Wellmark MATCH grant, the IDOT Transportation Alternatives Program, and the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation.
The committee will meet again on Tuesday, March 5, at the HCCB Welcome Center east of Missouri Valley at 6:30 p.m.
“The success stories across the state of Iowa happen because of the advocacy of private citizens,” Nelson said.