Citizens had a chance to weigh in Monday night on the Perry-to-Woodward connector trail when the five-member Dallas County Conservation Board held its latest public hearing on the question.
About 50 people filled the conservation board’s meeting room at Forest Park Museum in Perry to listen to Richard Voelker, transportation group director at the Ankeny-based engineering firm of Snyder and Associates, who gave a 30-minute presentation on potential alignment options for the connector trail.
Voelker, who had a hand in building the Raccoon River Valley Trail and numerous others, gave a detailed and thorough analysis of the possible routes, including their safety from a public health standpoint and feasibility from an engineering standpoint. He gave particular attention to the Perry-to-Bouton leg.
Voelker noted the historical uniqueness of the abandoned railroad right of way between Perry and Woodward and the way it differs from the former railbeds of the two trails it would connect.
“Getting those two to connect with just a mere nine miles seems like a short, fairly simple connection,” Voelker said. “Well, one of the things that’s kind of tricky about it is that both of those two trails started out as former railroad grades and were acquired soon after the railroads ceased operation. This is a section where the railroad ceased operating quite a long time ago, and all of the former railroad line went back into private hands. So none of this is necessarily available to us unless the current owner is willing to work with us for purchase of that former right of way.”
After Voelker’s presentation, Lorinda Inman, chair of the Dallas County Conservation Board, opened up the meeting to public comments, and many people spoke over the course of the next 70 minutes.
Dan Spellman of Perry presented a letter to the conservation board signed by Chad Hoffbeck and Richard Jones, presidents, respectively, of Perry Industries Inc. and Perry Economic Development Inc., two local investment groups.
“We strongly support the ‘railroad right-of-way Route’ which is Alignment A on the Snyder and Associates map options,” the letter read. “We think this is the preferred route which would enter eastern Perry on 130th St. (Park Avenue) and connect through Perry to the RRVT at the downtown Perry trailhead. This is a logical and safe connecting point for such trails.”
Spellman asked the conservation board to “revisit” Alignment A. “We think, for a number of reasons, that would be the best route for the communities involved in this project,” Spellman said. “We think it’s important to enter Perry from that northern area. There’s going to be new housing areas, new projects going in Perry, and that would be the best route, as far as we’re concerned, to get to the downtown area and connect with the Raccoon River Valley Trail.”
Alignment A would give Perry the “best bang for the buck” in terms of economic benefit, Spellman said, both “for the Perry community and for the Perry businesses and to provide uses the services they need. It would be a logical and reasonable way to provide services to users of the trail as they enter Perry and come towards the downtown area.”
He noted the “tradition” of the High Trestle Trail and the Raccoon River Valley Trail is to use the railroad right of way as much as possible.
“If there’s a chance of working with adjacent property owners, we’d be interested in trying to help with that,” Spellman said. “We want to support you as much as possible. If money’s a consideration, I think that’s something where we could try to help from the local contributions. We’re willing to look at that, to work with Mike and try to raise money. We don’t think money should be the final consideration. We think we need to come up with the best route for this trail within the tradition of the High Trestle and the Raccoon River Valley trails.”
John Powell of Perry asked whether there were specific landowners unwilling to sell or give easements over their property. Dallas County Conservation Board Executive Director Mike Wallace said, Yes, some were willing and some were unwilling, but he declined to identify anyone by name.
Voelker described the county’s “fallback position,” which is to put the trail in the public right of way, that is, along the road or in the ditch.
“Basically, we can always put the trail into existing public right of way,” Voelker said. “That’s kind of our fallback position if the railroad right of way is not available. If we can use the railroad right of way for a certain portion and then we can’t, then we look at connections to get us to where we can build a trail and find a way to make that work. Zig-zagging all over the place probably isn’t that desirable, but it really takes the path of the willing, who’s willing to work with us to sell right of way.”
Local business owners also made the case for Alignment A.
“I have a lot at stake in terms of my business model and cycling,” said Jay Hartz, owner of the Hotel Pattee in Perry. “My personal opinion on this is patience. I think it is important to stick to the rails-to-trails philosophies that have happened so far. It may take more time to get that particular route due to the landowners in question and so forth, and I would also reiterate that it’s not about the money. Look at this room–one of the reasons I’m so proud to be here is because of the citizens of Perry and this region that just believe in this.”
Many other citizens asked questions or made comments, including Perry’s mayor, several city council members and the Perry City Administrator. The strengths and weaknesses of every option were pointed out in turn, with a general consensus among the people on the economic importance of “getting it right” and with praise for the Dallas County Conservation Board for its diligence in pursuing a solution to this tricky puzzle.
Wallace said he found the hearing “very productive and positive.” He said he believes people now have a clearer sense of the challenges involved and understand no final decision has been made on any particular route.
“The question is still open,” Wallace said. “We will continue to pursue all the possibilities.”
Video courtesy Pegasus TV 12