Mark Mueller cycles along the Cedar Valley Nature Trail in Hiawatha in 2021. On Thursday, the state awarded $3.5 million in federal funds to complete paving the last 16 miles of the 52-mile trail between Hiawatha and Evansdale . (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
CEDAR RAPIDS – Linn and Black Hawk counties will receive $3.5 million in state-allocated U.S. federal bailout funds to complete paving the last 10 miles of the Cedar Valley Nature Trail that connects Evansdale and Hiawatha .
Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office announced funding for the Destination Iowa grant on Thursday, with the trial project one of three to receive funding in that round of grants. Applications for projects in Cedar Rapids and Marion are still awaiting information on their fate.
When complete, the Cedar Valley Nature Trail will have 52 paved miles. The trail also connects with other well-known trails in eastern Iowa, including the CeMar, Grant Wood, and Highway 100 trails in the Cedar Rapids and Marion areas. Those using the trail can also pass through Johnson County.
“We are very excited,” Linn County Conservation Director Dennis Goematt said. “We’ve been trying to get the trail to be paved the full length for many years and have cut it down.”
The funding will allow the two county conservation departments to jointly complete paving the last few miles of the historic trail, which is still covered only in crushed limestone and dirt through Black Hawk, Buchanan and Benton counties. The project will also include bridge replacements, box culverts and watershed controls.
Lisa Breitfelder of Cedar Rapids chats with her friend Cindy Zevenbergen of Marion while walking April 9 along the Cedar Valley Nature Trail near Boyson Road. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
The converted railroad is part of the nationally recognized American Discovery Trail and Great American Rail-Trail. The trail passes through various small communities like Robins, Lafayette, Center Point, Urbana, Brandon, La Porte City and Gilbertville.
A sign in Hiawatha indicates which towns the Cedar River Trail and Cedar Valley Nature Trail will pass. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
Complete paving and completion of the Cedar Valley Nature Trail has been a goal since the project began in the mid-1980s.
“I think it will really increase tourism,” Goematt said. “I think people will come from out of state even to use this trail. People love hard surface trails. Being able to go from one community to another is really beneficial for the whole region.
Business owners Mike and Vicky Goble, owners of Jams Coffee Bar in Urbana, have enjoyed their business’ proximity to the trail since it opened last year. In fact, the couple got permission to add a paved lane connecting their business to the trail to make it easier for cyclists to access. The bar offers coffee, beer, wine, flatbreads, pizzas and snacks.
“The bike path was one of the main reasons we chose this location,” said Mike Goble. “This spring and summer, a big part of our business is bike traffic, especially on weekends. They represent an important part of our clientele.
The Gobles have installed bike racks that can hold up to 70 bikes near their outdoor patio.
“We’ve been very supportive of being able to expand this trail,” Gobble added. “I’m glad they got the grant to continue the mission of paving these other towns as well.”
So far, Linn County’s Water and Land Legacy bond issue has funded some of the paving done so far. In November 2016, residents passed the bond with 74% approval to improve water quality, build parks and trails, and preserve natural areas.
Deputy Director of Conservation Daniel Gibbins said the adoption of the bond helped provide funding leverage to apply for the federal money.
“With our residents voting for this bond, it was really important to be able to leverage this funding,” Gibbins said. “In these small rural towns, a major trail like this can be an economic lifeline. This can be a growth opportunity for communities. The trail spans five counties and it’s a lot of rural Iowa that’s going to have huge benefits.
Last year, hard surfacing from Center Point to Urbana was completed on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail — a 6-mile stretch made with two grants from the Iowa Department of Transportation.
Funding from this round of the Destination Iowa program also went to the City of Maquoketa and Jackson County Conservancy, which received $750,000 for improvements to the Prairie Creek Recreation Area, including the installation of a whitewater canoe course on the Maquoketa River, a championship-caliber disc golf course, and ADA-accessible hiking trails.
In addition, the City of Colfax received $400,000 for improvements to Quarry Springs Park, located off Interstate 80. Funding for the “Relax in Colfax” project will help create a campground for RV with 30 sites, a shower and bathroom house and an ADA accessible dock.
Locally, the cities of Cedar Rapids and Marion have both applied for federal funds through the Destination Iowa Allocation Program.
In May, Cedar Rapids requested $27 million — later reduced to $8.4 million — through the Destination Iowa program to help pay for the $119 million “Greenway Recreation and Revitalization” project along the Cedar River near Czech Village and NewBo.
In June, Marion requested over $3.5 million in funding for the Uptown Central Plaza project, as well as the final phase of the highly anticipated CeMar Trail. The total cost of the two projects is just over $9 million.
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