In 2005, community leaders from the Webster County Development Corporation Board held a meeting to discuss quality of life issues in Fort Dodge and Webster County. One of the many positive things that came from the meeting was the creation of the Trails Advisory Board. The Advisory Board was given the objective of developing a comprehensive plan and trail network for the Fort Dodge Area. The group is made up of private citizens, trail users, local business owners, and city and county staff.
During the past six years the Trails Advisory Board has spent countless hours and meetings creating a trail plan that will connect people with places. The plan calls for creating 15 miles of new trail and connecting community assets by 2014. The plan was unanimously approved and endorsed by the Fort Dodge City Council and Webster County Board of Supervisors. The group presented the plan to the Vision Iowa board and received a $1.2 million dollar Vision Iowa grant to assist in the $6.7 million dollar plan. Additional funds have been raised through city, county, state, federal and private donations, making this project truly a collaborative effort. Private citizens and businesses donated approximately $400,000 to bring this project to life.
On Oct. 13, the trail connecting Fort Dodge to John F. Kennedy Memorial Park was officially dedicated and opened to the public. This trail was originally discussed in a 1978 Messenger editorial and has been attempted several times over the past 34 years, but never became a reality. This important connection was a huge team effort, but would not be possible without the community-minded landowners like Ed and Martha Beeh, Greg and Jane Horn, and Robert Christiansen who provided the land. The elected officials also played a key role in making difficult decisions in difficult times to make this plan a priority.
By the end of 2012, the following projects are scheduled for completion.
Trails to be completed in 2013
The following remaining projects are scheduled to begin construction in 2013.
At the completion of the trail construction, nearly 14.5 miles of new trail will be available for the public's use.
In addition to the trail construction, Fort Dodge and Webster County have invested in a Trail Signage Plan. The plan will provide consistent and seamless trail wayfinding throughout the system. Beginning in 2013, trail users will notice trail maps, signage, distance markers and directional signage throughout the trail system.
Communities throughout the United States are investing in trails for a variety of reasons recreation, alternate transportation, health benefits, and creating a fun place to live. According to "The Economic and Health Benefits of Bicycling in Iowa (2011)," Iowa has over 1,600 miles of trail and ranks sixth in the nation in bicycle friendliness. As fuel prices continue to rise, more Iowans are looking for transportation alternatives to save money. In addition to saving money, trails provide a great source of daily exercise. The Iowa Department of Public Health estimates 29.3 percent of Iowans do not meet recommended daily levels of physical activity and 67.2 percent of Iowans are considered overweight. Trails will play an important role in Gov. Terry Branstad's initiative to make Iowa the "healthiest state."
In addition to the personal benefits of trails, the state and local communities are also seeing a financial incentive to invest in trails. It is estimated that Iowa's 149,916 recreational riders generate $364,864,202 of direct and indirect economic benefits for the state of Iowa according to "The Economic and Health Benefits of Bicycling in Iowa (2011)." The study also estimates that trail riders save the state an estimated $73,942,511 in health care costs. In 2011, Boone County and surrounding neighbors built the $12 million dollar High Trestle Trail. The trail consists of a 25-mile trail and a half mile, 13-story bridge that boasts 3,000 visitors per week and local businesses seeing sales rise by 30 percent.
Probably the most important role that trails play in a community is enhancing the quality of life for local residents. Trails provide activities for all ages, abilities, and social classes. They create a social gathering place and allow trail users to interact with each other and the natural surroundings. Trails are an important piece of the puzzle when recruiting and retaining a qualified workforce. Young professionals migrate to areas with good schools, affordable housing, and a variety of fun things to do.
Trails don't happen by accident. They are an investment in the future of our region. On behalf of the Trails Advisory Board, we would like to sincerely thank all of the individuals, businesses, elected officials, and volunteers that have supported the Fort Dodge and Webster County Trail Plan. We are excited about the progress that has been made and are optimistic about the future of trails and outdoor recreation in our region.
Matt Cosgrove is director of Webster County Conservation. Angela R. Torres, an associate planner with the Department of Business Affairs and Community Growth of the city of Fort Dodge.