Hardin County group awaits construction on Iowa River Trail

CONTRIBUTED GRAPHIC Pictured is the Iowa River Scenic Nature Trail route from Marshalltown to Steamboat Rock. A large committee of Hardin and Marshall County residents have been working aggressively the past three and one-half years to develop a paved, multi-purpose, 34-mile trail. In Marshalltown, trail construction is completed at Wilson Circle and along the route. Eventually it will proceed northwest to the end of Summit Street, then north along the former Iowa River Railroad right-of-way. Construction in Hardin County will commence this year.

After several years of work “laying the foundation” a volunteer group of Hardin County residents are eager to see construction begin this year on a portion of the Iowa River Trail.

The group is the Iowa River Trail-Hardin Commission.

Their mission: Over a period of years, link Hardin County’s section with Marshall County’s Iowa River Trail segment, at the Hardin County-Marshall County line, north of Liscomb.

TRAILS, Inc. is developing the Marshall County segment starting in Marshalltown.

Combined, the 34-mile multi-use recreation trail will connect Marshalltown, Albion, Liscomb, Union, Gifford, Eldora and Steamboat Rock. The trail will be constructed over the former Iowa River Railroad right-of-way. Years ago, the right-of-way was owned by the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railroad.

“We are working together towards this common goal,” said Chris Wieting of Eldora, IRTHC chairperson. “The trail will provide a significant economic benefit to communities on it as well as having a ripple effect throughout both counties.”

Marshalltown businessman Matt Gerstandt, owner-operator of Black Tire Bicycle Co., has witnessed small towns on other trails throughout the Midwest add restaurants, taverns, and other businesses.

“The IRT will make a major positive difference in towns along the route like Albion,” he said. “Bicyclists tend to be higher income folks with more discretionary income, when they go out for a long ride, they have money and will spend it.”

It was the summer of 2013 when a large contingent of trail enthusiasts, local elected officials, county conservation staff and agency representatives from both counties joined forces to take trail concept into reality.

“With towns every six to seven miles, the trail is the perfect training route for biking or running,” according to an IRT brochure.

Additionally, the 10-foot wide trail will be ideal for hiking, sightseeing, camping, bird-watching, fishing and photography.

In Marshalltown, the trail begins at Wilson Circle, and proceeds northwest to the end of Summit Street, then north to Albion. Some construction has been completed along that route and more is planned in city limits.

Equally, the IRTHC is excited about construction starting this year on a one-mile route, which Wieting called “The Steamboat Rock section,” it will connect with an existing trail at Pine Lake State Park and proceed to Steamboat Rock.

“We wanted a project that would be visible to the public, and would tie into an existing trail … the ‘Steamboat Rock section,’ met the criteria,” said Wieting.

The section includes bridge work in Steamboat Rock, which will be a harbinger of more bridge work to come along the 34-mile route.

Wieting said the project was delayed when IRTHC had to work with the Iowa Department of Transportation officials to ensure the bridge’s historic components were not compromised.

Wieting said the IRTHC and TRAILS, Inc. will face significant challenges in the future as 29 bridges along the route will need repairs to make them safe for trail users.

Compounding the challenge is the number of bridges crossing the Iowa River.

“In three locations — two in Hardin County and one in Marshall County — the bridges cross the Iowa River,” said Wieting. “Those are big bridges.”

The Iowa Falls Times-Citizen reported the IRTHC applied for five different grants and were successful securing a $21,820 grant from the Barlow Family Foundation Challenge. That effort became the group’s biggest fundraiser in 2016.

Foundation support, other grant applications, and private donations have been critical fundraising mechanisms for IRTHC and TRAILS, Inc.

Additionally, TRAILS, Inc. secured $30,000 from the city of Marshalltown in 2016.

Joining Wieting are board members Mona Bleeker of Steamboat Rock, Adam Nederhoff of Iowa Falls, and Joe Herring of Eldora. Hardin County Supervisor Rene McClellan is the board liaison on the commission. For more information, visit IowaRiverTrail.com.