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Abandoned Railroad Line Presents Trail Opportunity

The communities of Jewel and Ellsworth in central Iowa are but a stone’s throw away from each other. For many years, covering that short distance could only be safely accomplished by motor vehicle along busy Highway 175. That all changed in 2006, however, when the Union Pacific Railroad filed for the abandonment of a 3.2-mile stretch of track that ran between the two communities.

Viewed as the ideal location for a future trail connection, the Hamilton County Conservation Board secured funding assistance to acquire the track right-of-way through a special state transportation appropriation. With assistance from the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Hamilton County purchased the corridor in 2009. Over several ensuing years, four additional properties were acquired to complete the necessary acquisitions for a trail connection.

Establishing Community Connections with Dependable Design

The designers and engineers with Snyder & Associates were brought on board to help create the final trail alignment, as well as provide a host of necessary services. Before the concept of the JewEllsworth Trail was born, Hamilton County was home to just two trails — the one-mile-long Jewell Jubilee Trail and the Briggs Woods Trail, a 5.9-mile-long trail in Webster City nearly 20 miles away.

Additionally, a lack of sidewalks and narrow roads with limited shoulders made the transportation system around the two communities inadequate for walking and biking. The area had a critical need to fill these voids by providing safe, alternative transportation connections within and between both communities.

Rural shared bike lane on town road

In both towns shared lane markings were created to complete the connection.

Our design team quickly went to work establishing the best pathway to connect the two towns. The final design called for a ten-foot-wide, 3.5-mile-long, paved trail running mostly adjacent to Highway 175 on the former rail line. In Jewell, bicycle lanes and shared lane markings were established to complete an additional 0.5-mile-long connection through the downtown area to connect with the existing Jewell Jubilee Trail. In Ellsworth, shared lane markings created an additional 0.4-mile-long route through town.

Noteworthy Accomplishments & Perseverance Pave the Way

During the trail alignment process, our team was faced with numerous challenges. The first called for the rehabilitation of two former railroad bridges between Jewell and Ellsworth. The first bridge consisted of a 63-foot-long timber bridge over an unnamed tributary. The second bridge was a 225-foot-long steel girder bridge over the Skunk River. Additionally, the plan also called for an entirely new trail bridge over a major drainage ditch.

To minimize the financial commitment of the county and both cities, multiple state and federal funding sources were sought for this project. By the very nature of granting periods and project requirements, obtaining the necessary funds was an arduous and drawn-out process. The commitment of several local stakeholders, along with the perseverance of our design team, ensured that the project didn’t get lost in “red tape” stumbling blocks and moved swiftly to completion once funding was secured. The steadfast dedication of this relentless group of people was the key ingredient that kept things moving forward.

Future Trail Connections Possible

Steel trail bridge over a stream of water

This 225-foot bridge was rehabilitated as part of the JewEllsworth Trail project.

While it took nearly a decade of work and collaboration between a host of partners to move the JewEllsworth Trail from vision to reality, the new trail connection has brought the two communities closer together than ever before. Area children can safely travel between the two communities, and recreational riders and those seeking exercise have the perfect reason to hit the trail.

Substantially complete in 2016, the JewEllsworth Trail is the first complete section of what could become a larger trail loop that connects with and extends the Iowa trail network. As the Hamilton County Conservation Board and the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation continue to plan future trail phases, Snyder & Associates is well-positioned to assist with critical design components.