• Wed July 04 2007
  • Posted Jul 4, 2007
Regional vision, funding source could create world-class trails. July 3, 2007 In a few weeks, people from all over the world will be vacationing in Iowa. They'll be here to ride their bikes across our great state on RAGBRAI XXXV. They're coming from all 50 states, the Virgin Islands and 21 foreign countries, including Australia, Japan, Norway and Saudi Arabia. Ten thousand riders and thousands more support people will enjoy Iowa's small towns and hospitality for a week. Then they'll return home. They'll remember Iowa as a great place to visit, relax, make new friends and ride a bike. Biking and Iowa fit together - from RAGBRAI to the more than 1,000 miles of existing recreational trails used by 1 million people each year. But outdoor events and bike-friendly communities shouldn't be confined to one week at the end of July. Iowa needs to be bike-friendly 52 weeks of the year. The Des Moines metro area has an opportunity to lead the state in accomplishing that. Residents in Polk, Warren and Dallas counties will vote July 10 on a 1-cent local-option sales tax. The Project Destiny proposal would use a portion of the revenues - an estimated $63 million over 10 years - for recreational trails. They're defined as everything from bike lanes to waterways to trails for horseback riding. The tri-county area has about 350 miles of these trails. Money from Project Destiny would accelerate plans for expanding and improving what's referred to as Central Iowa Trails - a network of 10 major recreational trails and many smaller trails in the metro area. Plans call for adding 530 miles of trails in the tri-county area. Leveraged with state and federal dollars, the potential result: a world-class trail system. Money is needed to accomplish that. One mile of recreational trail can cost $150,000 to $350,000, depending on land cost, terrain, the need for bridges and costs for drainage systems. It takes bucks to maintain them, to pay for trimming trees, fixing potholes and cleaning up after storms. It would be money well-spent. An investment in trails is an investment in the entire community. More trails would make the metro a more attractive place to live and work. Trails stimulate the economy, attract tourists, increase property values, encourage healthier lifestyles and offer alternative transportation for people to get to work. Also, the money generated by the sales tax could help bring more money to the community by providing matching dollars for state and federal grants. The city of Carlisle, for example, is working to find money to secure federal grant dollars for extending the Summerset Trail, which runs between Carlisle and Indianola. The hope, eventually, is to connect it to trails in Des Moines, and the grant, with matching funds, would go a long way in accomplishing that, said Carlisle Mayor Ruth Randleman. But Destiny isn't just about money. It's about vision. It's about the Des Moines metro area collaborating as a region - which is desperately needed when it comes to trails. Iowa takes a piecemeal approach to trails. A prime example: The Neal Smith Trail runs about 25 miles from downtown Des Moines to Big Creek. The city of Des Moines is responsible for one part. The state for another. The federal government for another. The result is uneven maintenance. Some jurisdictions do a good job of keeping up their parts of the trail; others don't. Project Destiny would establish a Tri-County Regional Authority to distribute grants for trail construction and maintenance. It could create uniform standards for how trails are constructed. It could require signs be posted, benches installed and restrooms added. Project Destiny could create a climate of collaboration and an overarching vision for developing a world-class recreational-trail system - along with the dollars to make it a reality.

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