From the comments heard at Tuesday night’s public hearing held by the Dallas County Conservation Board at Woodward City Hall, it appears the public likes the board’s latest route recommendation for the connector trail from Perry to Woodward.
Richard M. Voelker, lead architect on the link-trail project with Ankeny-based Snyder and Associates, opened the public hearing with a 20-minute presentation on the current state of the trail project. The presentation was nearly the same one he gave the conservation board at its Dec. 8 meeting.
A sweet spot in Voelker’s presentation came when he told attendees the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) had that same day announced an award of $171,000 in federal recreational trail grant funds to the connector-trail project. The funds will be used to buy former railroad right-of-way land from Bouton eastward to Quinlan Avenue. The DOT award represents 80 percent of the total cost of buying and building the four-mile stretch, estimated at $213,000.
Voelker’s presentation focused on the factors at play in choosing a preferred route and the technical challenges of building a trail along the preferred route.
“Ultimately,” Voelker said, “our recommendation is to designate Alignment A as the preferred alignment for the Raccoon River Valley Trail to High Trestle Trail connection and to continue to pursue grant funds for land acquisition and construction.”
The latest grant will permit the board to enter serious negotiations with with landowners, Voelker said.
“As the board acquires funds for right-of-way acquisition,” he said, “now they have the ability to talk substantively with property owners and get appraisals and really talk about whether or not they are willing to part with an easement or right of way for trail accommodation, which would allow us to build off the roadway and would be a substantial savings to the project.”
The next major grant on the horizon is the Iowa DOT’s statewide recreational trail grant, which is subject to the uncertainties of annual approval by the Iowa General Assembly, Voelker said. The legislature gave the Iowa DOT $3 million for the statewide rec-trail fund last year but $6 million the year before.
Other potential grant streams are the Vision Iowa program, which awards Community Attraction and Tourism (CAT) grants, and the Iowa Water and Land Legacy (IWILL), the agency set to administer the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, which Iowa voters approved by constitutional amendment in 2010 as a permanent fund based on a 3/8 cent sales tax.
The Iowa legislature has yet to increase the sales tax, so the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund remains empty. Critics of the legislature’s failure to fund IWILL claim it could provide a reliable source of funding for water-quality projects in the state that would not come at the expense of public school infrastructure, as in the Iowa Governor Branstad’s recent proposal to divert a portion of the Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) revenue stream into water-quality initiatives.
The Alignment A route for the connector trail has not yet been approved by the Dallas County Conservation Board, but they seemed open at Tuesday’s public hearing to Voelker’s recommendation, which was strongly seconded by most of the meeting’s public participants.
The question was raised in the public hearing whether the board’s choice of Alignment A — if they accept Voelker’s recommendation — would carry weight with the Dallas County Board of Supervisors as they decide on the proposed paving of 130th Street and 128th Place, the farm-to-market roads connecting Perry and Bouton along Alignment A.
“I just want to say that I appreciate all your work in coming around to that decision, potential decision, and keeping us off the highways as much as you can,” said Joelle Miner of Perry, a local biking enthusiast. “I really worried about crossing 169 on 141. If there’s something, anything we can do when it comes to that farm-to-market road and bringing together some of those farmers in order to put some pressure or leverage on our engineer or county supervisors — from the schools, us and the farmers around there — to try and keep pushing for that. I know you guys want that, too, but if there’s anywhere we can work together to keep the pressure on there for paving that gravel road, we’re willing.”
Dallas County Conservation Board member Mark Powell, who was elected the board’s chairperson for 2016 in the regular meeting preceding the public hearing, welcomed Miner’s suggestion of collaboration.
“If we make that decision to make route A the preferred route, we’re going to need that,” Powell said. “That’s what it’s going to take, to make a little noise to get them to act.”
Woodward City Council member Richard Hartwig said the Woodward council supports the connector trail. The High Trestle Trail “has been very good for Woodward,” Hartwig said, “and I would really like to see this trail, if it can be done such as we’re looking at, to get this to Perry. I know from Perry going west, you’ve spent a lot of money over there the last few years.”
Hartwig also admitted he sees the challenges the board faces in trying to build the trail along Alignment A.
“As you say, with the county engineer going from Bouton on down the gravel road and what have you, this could be a little tough going from Bouton west,” he said.
Perry Mayor Jay Pattee said a connector trail along Alignment A will dovetail will trail and infrastructure construction Perry has already done in anticipation of that route.
“It looks like it ties in really well with the infrastructure that Perry’s already put in place,” Pattee said, “and it answers our need to find a way through our downtown to the actual trailhead that’s been developed. I see lots of positives.”
Pattee said the conservation board’s choice of Alignment A could also strengthen Perry’s efforts to persuade county leaders to pave 130th Street eastward from Perry to U.S. Highway 169.
“It does seem that it would bode well as you’re going for grants,” Pattee said, “and I think it bodes well for the groups, like the active group in Perry that’s trying to campaign for the paving of the road, if we have a preferred route and can say, ‘This is the preferred route.’ I think that helps our cause.”
Pattee led a delegation of representatives from Perry’s business, industrial and governmental communities to Adel in late November in order to ask the Dallas County Board of Supervisors to consider paving 130th, also known as Park Street. The farm-to-market road is unpaved, unlike most of the county’s farm-to-market roads.
The county has not paved a gravel road in 30 years, according to former Dallas County Engineer Jim George. Branstad’s 2015 gas-tax hike has brought a surge in road-use tax funds to Dallas County, and the Perry delegation urged the county supervisors to put some of these new funds toward development in the north end of the county near Perry, which is still one of the county’s largest cities.