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Bike trails go the distance

BY CARLY MATTHEW | APRIL 22, 2015 5:00 AM

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Within the next several years, cyclists may be able to bike from Iowa City to Cedar Falls on bike trails.  

One major step in the works is a trail from Solon to Ely on Seven Sisters Road. The trail is currently in the engineering and design phase, said Brad Freidhoff, Johnson County Conservation program manager.

“It’s something we’ve wanted to do for quite some time,” Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan said.

He said officials are interested in these projects to promote health and wellness while offering another attraction in eastern Iowa.

“It’s exciting because it’s not only recreation; it’s transportation,” Freidhoff said.

The new segment would link Solon with the Hoover Trail, which runs from Ely to Cedar Rapids.

Over the next several months during the design phase, oficials will determine the cost, where bridges will need to be built, and where parts of the trail are too steep and need to be graded.

The Seven Sisters Road project is tied with a road-improvement project to help save money.

“I intend to have that project completed within four years, barring any delays or complications,” Freidhoff said.

Currently, it is possible to bike from Iowa City to Cedar Rapids, but it requires hopping on roads where trails aren’t yet available.

“For years, these other segments have been done,” Freidhoff said.

Johnson County Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said he anticipates that, after the trails are better connected, they will attract tourists looking to go on lengthier rides, some over numerous days, and therefore boost the local economy.

Of Iowa’s estimated 150,000 recreational riders who use trails in the state one to six times per week, 63 percent reported taking overnight trips to other Iowa communities, according to a study by the University of Northern Iowa’s Sustainable Tourism and Environment Program.

Ninety-eight percent rode for recreational purposes.

“I think trails are proven in Iowa as something people use,” Anne Duggan, Think Bicycles Johnson County president, said, referring to the network of trails in the Des Moines area.

For example, she said, in towns the linked trails passed through, such as Ankeny received an economic boom with businesses popping up near the trails.

Another necessary project in connecting Iowa City and Cedar Rapids is a trail running from North Liberty to the Mehaffey Bridge.

“We want this to become a destination in eastern Iowa,” Freidhoff said.

State funding, however, has not been readily available for trail-connectivity projects.

“These things are time consuming and costly,” Freidhoff said.

Neuzil said the county has a “full speed ahead” attitude toward linking trail segments. 

He said though the supervisors continue to advocate for state funding and grants, the governor and state Legislature haven’t provided funding.

“We’re not stopping for the Legislature,” Neuzil said. “We’re aggressively pursuing this with or without state funding.”

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said receiving state funding for trails is highly competitive. He said there is only around $3 million available for the year but $30 million worth of requests.

"It's a competitive process where people from all over the state apply for funding," Bolkcom said.

He said proposals are scored on several criteria and those ranking the highest receive funding. 

Neuzil said the supervisors are pushing to complete these projects in order to provide an additional recreational opportunity, which could receive interest from locals and tourists alike.

They are promoting it to state Legislature as an economic-development initiative, he said, because it has potential to bring in more than enough money to cover its initial cost.  

Sources of funding for these and other trail connectivity projects, Neuzil said, include state grants, federal funding designated for constructing trails, and Johnson County conservation board initiative funding approved.

Freidhoff said several “sizeable” donations have already been made toward Seven Sisters Road trail from Solon to Ely and he anticipates more people to be interested in donating after the planning stage is complete.

In the meantime, Freidhoff said the focus is on acquiring the private land and easements needed to build trails in these areas.


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