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Multi-Use Trails Key to Linking Destination Hubs around the City of Denison & Crawford County

Situated along the Boyer River in west-central Iowa, the City of Denison serves as the bustling county seat for Crawford County. The Denison Rotary Club has played an integral role in the betterment of the local community for a number of years. In their ongoing commitment to give back, the club formed the “Rotary Roads” committee to tackle the expansion of the local trails network.

The Rotary Roads committee consists of a group of engaged residents and business owners who want to improve the quality of life in Denison and Crawford County by expanding opportunities for walking and biking. Their overarching goal is to create a trail and bikeway system to support healthy and active lifestyles. This group began working with the Chamber and Development Council of Crawford County in 2018 to gather information about the community’s wants and needs concerning a trail network.

Rotary Roads Committee Conducts Preliminary Planning Research

Rotary Roads began their planning efforts with two community input sessions. Participants were asked to mark desired trail destinations on a city map. City leaders and committee members then sketched out potential trail routes and bike lanes to connect those destinations. Using the Iowa DOT’s statewide bike map, participants then examined nearby trails and communities and provided input on where likely connections to a larger trail network could be made.

After the initial session, Rotary Roads sent a survey to the meeting participants to gather additional information on the desire and potential usage for a trail network. Copies of the survey were also distributed to employees in the local school district which garnered further feedback.

Need for Professional Planning Recognized

Three Snyder employees with APA award

Snyder & Associates planning team receive the APA 2019 “Grassroots Initiative” Award. Pictured from left to right: Colton Ingels, Mindy Moore, and Mackenzie Lloyd

Having gathered this information from the public input sessions, the Rotary Roads committee recognized they needed help organizing, analyzing, and bringing their trails’ vision to reality. Before jumping into engineering design, they needed a concept plan to obtain buy-in from the city and the county, both of whom would most likely be maintaining any trail system. They also needed an estimated construction cost opinion for their grand vision. The committee turned to the planning team at Snyder & Associates to help create this concept plan.

The Snyder & Associates team was able to use the community input information that had already been gathered by the Rotary Roads committee. Through this input, multiple site visits, and other planning measures, the team developed options to determine potential trail alignment opportunities. Six specific criteria were also identified by the team that helped establish the goals of the plan. These criteria included the need to:

Development of the “Trails to a Wonderful Life” Trails Plan

walking path across bridge

Wheels to Heels Trail exiting Yellow Smoke Park.

The resultant “Trails to a Wonderful Life” plan created by the Snyder & Associates team proposed a network with two distinct stages. The first stage would consist of an on-street bicycle network within the City of Denison that connects destination areas around the community. The second stage of the trail system would start at the existing “Wheels to Heels” Trail in Yellow Smoke Park on the outskirts of Denison and extend mostly along the Boyer River to the Sauk Rail Trail near the City of Lake View. This section of the trail would be known as the Crawford County Connector.

The plan contains a conceptual route for the trail network outlining environmental concerns and topographic constraints that were found during the planning process. Also, private property acquisitions for parcels potentially impacted by the trail were identified. Other elements of the project outlined different types of on-street bicycle facilities (bike lanes, buffered bike lanes, separated bike lanes, shared lane markings, paved shoulders, etc.) and describes where each might be applicable within the project.

The final plan broke down the trail development into six phases that could be completed over time. Generally, it’s recommended the in-town trails take precedence over the Crawford County Connector portion of the trail network. These on-street bike networks can begin to be implemented through annual pavement management and painting programs immediately. However, the entirety of the proposed alignment for this regional connection should first be conceptually agreed upon by all relevant governing authorities. That way, if any construction projects are planned along the proposed alignment, the trail should be taken into consideration and incorporated into the project when feasible.

Formal Planning Increases Funding Opportunities

The importance of having adopted plans in relation to the potential to receive grant awards was a significant element uncovered during this planning process. Since funding for a project of this nature requires considerable resources, the importance of planning at the local and regional level can’t be overstated. Additionally, trail and bike network planning efforts should be reflected in a city or county comprehensive plan, as well as the regional and state long-range transportation plans. Unfortunately, neither Crawford County nor the City of Denison has a current comprehensive plan, therefore the Statewide Trails Vision prepared by the Iowa DOT also does not include the proposed connection. Because of this, the chances of receiving local, state, or federal funding would be severely limited.

To remedy this situation, the Trails to a Wonderful Life plan recommends coordinating with the local governments and the regional county government to adopt the concept of the trail as part of their official plans. Having a comprehensive plan signifies an organized and serious effort to move a project forward, making it considerably more likely to be considered for public funds. Additionally, the plan outlined numerous private funding sources that could be explored.

Implementation Plan Sustains Momentum

Finally, the Trails to a Wonderful Life plan provides an implementation strategy that includes:

This comprehensive plan will enable the Rotary Roads committee to keep the excitement and momentum going forward and guide them through the next steps to make real progress toward construction. Over time, the Trails to a Wonderful Life plan will steer the development of a regional trail connection and bikeway system that can improve the quality of life for the City of Denison and Crawford County residents.