Council OKs trail use of old railroad corridor

Monday night, the Marshalltown City Council voted to accept responsibility of a 12-mile stretch of railroad property to be rehabbed into a bike trail.

The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation wants to purchase the land from Iowa River Railroad. However, in order to qualify for grant money to purchase the land and transform it into a bike trail, the foundation needs a public entity to back the project. With the July 1 deadline fast approaching, the council needed to move fast if it was to support the project.

The resolution passed by a 6-1 vote, with council member Bob Schubert, first ward, voting “no,” saying residents living on the west side of town have vocalized opposition to the project.

Andrea Chase, trails coordinator for the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, said the only cost to the city is maintaining the cooridor’s upkeep for the 20 years the city would own the land.

Mayor Tommy Thompson and others said the city could only support taking ownership of the land if someone else agreed to maintain it.

“The city is going to be in some tough financial situations in the next couple years because of the legislator,” said Randy Wetmore, city administrator. “We are not going to have the funds, the forces to go out and do the maintenance.”

Terry Briggs, with the Iowa Valley Bike Club, said his group has already committed $6,000 to the upkeep and has committed to giving another $2,000 a year. With Marshalltown’s passion for biking, he said he couldn’t envision the money not being raised.

Preliminary estimates put the yearly cost of upkeep near $500 per mile.

Briggs said adding this portion of the trail, which would connect to another 25 miles of trail stretching to Steamboat Rock, will provide economic and health benefits for Marshalltown citizens. If the city doesn’t start providing adequate recreational opportunities, young people who care about such things will live elsewhere and the city will miss out on the property taxes.

“I think we may be falling short on the quality of life and recreation,” Briggs said.

Joel Greer, second-ward council member, said he has already had $2,000 commitments from two businesses and has received letters of support from 15 agencies including Iowa Valley Community College, Lennox, Martha-Ellen Tye Foundation and Emerson.

Tom Deimerly, president of Marshall Economic Development Impact Committee, said the city missed a couple businesses endeavors that opted to set up in communities near the High Trestle Trail. The addition of such a trail could also cause several small businesses to pop up in the area to serve cyclists.

In an editorial that ran in the Times-Republican Sunday, publisher Mike Schlesinger suggested that the city lease the unsued land on either side of the proposed path to adjacent farmers and use the money to fund maintenance costs.

Denny Grabenbauer, county supervisor, said the county supports the project, but it will not put tax dollars into funding it. However, he said the county would look into helping repair intersections where the trail crosses county roads as they may be part of normal county upkeep.

Chase said the city will have time to back out of assuming ownership of the land since the final allocation for the grant money is not until late September or early October.

According to the resolution, the city has placed a variety of stipulations on assuming control of the land. Those conditions include ensuring the land is in usable condition subsequent to the rails being torn out and being able to negotiate with nonprofit to assume control of the maintenance cost.

Brian Arrowood, with the Iowa State Snowmobile Association, said if the bike trail users were willing to share the trail with snowmobilers, the money his group collects could help fund trail maintenance.

Kevin Weese, president of the Central Iowa Snowmobilers, said some of the equipment the group uses to maintain snowmobile trails could also be used. Snowmobilers do not require the trail to be complete to use it he said. So, the city could see some economic impact sooner as snowmobilers pay registration and user fees.

The trail would take five to 10 years to complete.