Johnson County Trails Advisory Committee dissolved

BY BEN MARKS | NOVEMBER 21, 2014 5:00 AM

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Starting this week, hiking, walking, snowmobile, and biking trails around Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty will come under new management.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors on Thursday approved the dissolution of the Trails Advisory Committee, a Johnson County panel dedicated to planning the layout of trails around the county.

Now, the committee’s responsibilities will be taken over by the Conservation Board, which hired former county naturalist Brad Freidhof as the conservation program manager to oversee planning and implementing of all the trails.

“Prior to this year, trails in Johnson County never really had a departmental home,” Freidhof said.
Instead, the advisory committee worked with several departments such as the supervisors, Secondary Roads, and Conservation to develop trail systems.

The Trails Advisory Committee was formed in 2006 because of a lack of oversight in trail building in the county, former Trails Advisory Committee member Richard Walton said.

“At that time, there wasn’t a master plan for a trail system in Johnson County,” he said. “Basically, what they were looking for was people who had interests to start providing input so they could formulate policy.”

But Walton said the main issue was that the committee was strictly advisory; it had no administrative power or budget.

“We were limited in what we could do,” he said. “Someone else would have to pick up the ball and run with it.”

Where before that “someone else” might be the supervisors or Secondary Roads, it’s now under the complete management of Freidhoff, who, as Walton said, works as both “the advisory committee and as the facilitator.”

“We don’t have to have [proposals] funneled down through the Board of Supervisors to the Conservation Board and then back out again anymore,” he said. “We’re trying to eliminate a little bit of bureaucracy here, get another committee out of the way and still get trails on the ground.”

Although the Trails Advisory Committee will no longer hold public meetings, Freidhoff said, these meetings will be replaced with the Conservation Board’s monthly meetings.

“Anybody who has trail ideas, concerns, or suggestions, we want them to come out,” he said. “We want public input.”

In addition to the monthly meetings, the board will hold an annual Trail Consortium, a larger event that will bring together organizations and citizens from different communities and update them on city and county wide events, as well as plans for the future.

Freidhof said he wants people asking questions about the trails, clubs, and activities.

“I’m hoping that although it won’t meet as often, it will have a larger impact, he said. “Hopefully, that one large meeting a year will extend throughout the season.”

Supervisor Janelle Rettig, who was one of the initial heads of the Trails Advisory Committee, agrees with this and said she believes the consortium will be much better than the monthly meetings.

“I think an annual meeting will be a better fit, and we’ll get more input because of it,” she said. “No regular citizens attended the monthly meetings, so I think a big annual consortium will have a much bigger input.”

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