CASS COUNTY – Extending the T-Bone Trail into Atlantic has been an idea in the works for years, with mixed results. This week officials say they are ready to make another attempt at the long-awaited project.
Cass County Conservation Director Micah Lee told the Cass County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that a route along Great River Road was in the preliminary stages of being considered, and officials were beginning the process of meeting with landowners to discuss selling right of way for the trail.
“We have talked to a few,and they are willing to look at it a little further. We’re just going to move ahead with that,” Lee said.
The route would start at the trailhead, and travel along the road, but it is still being determined.
The 21mile trail runs from Audubon to about 5 miles north of Atlantic and officials have been seeking ways to complete the 3 and half miles to reach the AMU Well Fields where an established trail system is in place.
Nishna Valley Trails, Inc. President Dave Chase said numerous routes have been considered in the past including using Olive Street and Buck Creek Road. But he said on Thursday that Olive Street was not ideal “there isn’t a good right of way, and the ditches are really steep.” The Buck Creek Road route involved using the railroad spur along the tracks from the cooperative to the ethanol plant, but railroad officials changed their minds after initially agreeing to the plan. The plan was further doomed when the county closed the Buck Creek bridge that was a key link joining the trail to the Schildberg Recreation area.
However, Chase is optimistic about the latest idea because of the interest expressed in the idea by a number of entities that want to help make the extension a reality. The project was labeled a “very high interest priority level” in a recent survey conducted by the County Conservation Board and Nishna Valley Trails looking at recreational options in the area, and there was high praise during a public meeting on recreation conducted by the YMCA.
Chase said more groups have recently become interested in the project including Nishna Valley Trails, Inc., Cass County Conservation, Audubon County Economic Development/Tourism, Healthy Cass County, Nishna Valley Family YMCA, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (the Washington D.C. non-profit coordinating the Great American Rail Trail), American Discovery Trail (National Hiking Association), Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Iowa Bicycle Coalition, SHIFT ATL, Cass County Tourism, and Frontier Iowa Trails (Pottawattamie County-based group coordinated by Golden Hills RC&D in Oakland).
“I’m more optimistic now than I’ve ever been,” Chase said about extending the trail. “The whole experience of the pandemic- people getting out and doing fresh air things. Utilization of trails has just increased.”
National groups have also become more involved since the trail is now part of two national trail systems — the American Discovery Trail and the Great American Rail-Trail.
The American Discovery Trail starts in Washington D.C. and ends in California and is made up of existing trails in each state. At the edge of Ohio, it splits into two trails -one which travels through Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska and another which travels through Illinois, Missouri and Kansas before meeting again in Colorado.
The Great American Rail-Trail starts in Washington D.C., and travels through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and Washington State.
That is another reason that Chase is optimistic.
“Now we’re in constant contact with (national organization officials) because they want to see gaps closed. That hasn’t happened before,” he said.
If officials can work out deals with landowners for right of way and no other obstacles are encountered, Chase said will know the cost of the extension later this summer, part of which could be paid for with grants from the Department of Transportation and Natural Resources as well as private donations.