A trail to give public access to California Bend, a project that restored habitat lost during the channelization of the Missouri River, is now complete.
City of Blair crews finished rocking the 2.5-mile trail that extends from Optimist Park north along the river July 17, according to Blair Public Works Director Al Schoemaker.
“We worked on and off repairing the trail washouts and extending the trail for two weeks. Weather stopped us a couple of times,” he said. “The trail is now fully built as originally planned.”
The trail has been a work in progress for nearly 17 years.
The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District (PMRNRD) completed its California Bend Environmental Restoration Project north of Blair in 2003.
The approximately $4.19 million project restored about 27 acres of habitat by creating shallow water channels, as well as an additional 87 acres of habitat to the historic backwater area no longer connected to the river.
The 220-acre California Bend Project was modeled after successful projects at Boyer Chute and Nathan's Lake in southeast Washington County.
In 2005, public meetings at Blair City Hall gathered residents' input about the future use of California Bend and the decision was made to add a trail. Public access would allow activities like fishing, hiking, biking and nature observation.
However, the project stalled. Funds weren't available. Then, the flood of 2011 shifted priorities, according to a story published in the Pilot-Tribune in 2017.
The project gained traction again three years ago when the PMRNRD Board of Directors approved an interlocal agreement to allow the city to use the California Bend site. The city was to use $25,000 of its own funds and $25,000 from the PMRNRD to start the trail. Public works employees and volunteers would provide the manpower.
Schoemaker said crews were not able to work on the trail in 2019 due to flooding and wet conditions. He estimated crews hauled 500 to 600 tons of rock to complete the trail earlier this month.
There are several restrictions for the trail: no harvesting or collecting of berries, nuts, fruit, wood, vines or other material; no large public events or overnight camping; no dogs allowed other than service dogs; and no hunting.
Blair City Council member Jon Stewart, a longtime advocate for the project, walked the trail last weekend. During his walk, he saw families using the trail and fishing.
The project, he said, was a good fit for the community and could draw more people to Blair.
“It just made sense to me if we were going to put the money into the boat ramp and the parking lot, it could also be a destination for something else,” he said.