Hardin County portion of Iowa River’s Edge Trail to receive $2 million grant

Trails connect people, recreation and commerce, and the multi-million dollar Iowa River’s Edge Trail, which winds through Marshall and Hardin counties, is in the process of being paved and renovated. The Hardin County portion has been awarded a $2 million TAP grant for paving south of Eldora and for the South Fork Bridge Project.

“The timeframe on that is starting in 2025,” said Mona Bleeker, who serves as president of the Hardin County River’s Edge Trail board. “We’re bridge ready to Gifford, except for the South Fork Bridge, which is our big expense. But our other bridges are ready to go. There are 28 bridges along the entire 34-mile corridor, and most of those are in Hardin County.”

A Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside Program (TAP) fund, administered by the Iowa DOT, pays for initiatives such as pedestrian and bicycle facilities, recreational trails, safe routes to school projects, historic preservation, vegetation management and more.

This grant comes on the heels of another recent funding source that’s been secured: $15,000 from the Hardin County Community Endowment Foundation to assist with a hydrological study of the South Fork Bridge near Gifford. Bleeker noted that this study must be done to determine the best approach to repairing or replacing the bridge before work can continue along the trail.

History of the trail

The trail sits on a railroad corridor, which was founded in 1868. By 1958, the passenger service was discontinued, but freight was still transported into the new century.

The 2008 flood resulted in damage to various bridges, which ultimately led to the discontinuation of the freight line in 2012.

The railroad used the Railbanking Act of 1883 to preserve the corridor for further public usage. The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation then purchased the rail corridor.

Marshalltown City Councilor Jeff Schneider said ownership of the corridor then passed to the City of Marshalltown and Hardin County.

In July 2013, the Trail Resources and Iowa Land Stewards, Inc. (TRAILS Inc.) was founded by Marshalltown Mayor Joel Greer. Schneider currently serves as its president.

“The goal was to be perpetual, starting with organizing, raising the funds to build the 34-mile recreational trail, and then continuing to maintain not just it but the other rec trails in and near Marshalltown,” Greer said. “But long-range, we are on the map as being part of the west to east coast trail, so some day, we will want to fundraise to make that connection, too.”

Originally called the Iowa River Trail, it was rebranded as the Iowa River’s Edge Trail in 2019. The trail connects Marshalltown to Albion to Liscomb to Union to Gifford to Eldora and to Steamboat Rock.

“There are not very many trails that run along a river. This one runs along the river the whole way,” Schneider said.

Current projects

Safety crossing signals have been installed on Lincoln Way, Ninth Street and Main Street in Marshalltown, with funds from Dr. John Greater and his late wife Irene’s estate.

Schneider said funding has been secured to replace bridges two through five.

“Those are over-stream, tributaries – just stagnant water in the Iowa River bottom,” he said. “They’re the smallest of the next bridges. That project has been in the works since probably 2018. We have a number of grants and private donations to TRAILS Inc. to try to complete that portion. We have just been stuck in a lot of bureaucracy. I always hate using the excuse of the pandemic, but it was true. It did impact this project quite a bit. The DOT will administer the bid letting and has to approve everything.”

The project has required doing water, archeological and wetland studies.

“The NRCS is the agency that we’re trying to get our final easement from, but we do have an easement from the landowners for construction,” he said. “The construction shouldn’t impact any of the wetlands at all but the agencies have to make sure that it doesn’t. We’re hoping that later this year or early next year, we can have our bid letting. We expect it to be a $1.6 to $2 million project. And then that will just be the bridges and then we still have 1.8 miles of paving to do after that.”

The unpaved portions are railroad bed type of rock. Ultimately, the aim is to have the entire trail made of concrete.

Up to date construction estimates are underway to determine costs for bridges six through nine and the paving done to Albion. Bridge eight is the Iowa River crossing iron bridge, which he calls the “keystone” bridge on the Marshall County side of the trail.

“That’s the biggest phase we’re working on in the future,” he said. “We’ll need more funds. Then from Albion to Liscomb, there’s 5.5 miles of trail, and that’s mostly a paving project. There are a few road crossings but no bridges.”

From Liscomb to the Hardin County line, it’s another two miles and five miles total to Union.

Schneider said River’s Edge Trail has national importance as part of The Great American Rail-Trail, which spans about 3,700 miles with 467 miles in Iowa. It’s also part of the American Discovery Trail, which has a northern route and a southern route — going through Marshall County. It is 4,834 miles on the north path, and 5,057 miles on the south.

“This will be a worldwide tourist destination, mainly for bikers, to take the entire path,” he said. “I think it’s really neat that you can get on a bike trail in Marshalltown and if you’re so inclined, bike to the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean on multiple routes.”

He said when people look into moving to a new town, they often consider whether or not there’s a trail nearby, and not just for biking, but also for viewing wildlife, running, walking, geocaching and more.

This trail, once completed, will link to a variety of local, county, regional and state trails.

Trails Day will take place at the River’s Edge Trail – Eldora Trail Head on April 27 featuring food and recreation. There will be a volunteer trail clean-up at 9 a.m., tots-on-trikes story time with the Eldora Public Library at 10:30 a.m., a ribbon-cutting of the Eldora trailhead at noon, followed by a bike ride at 1 p.m.

To register for the cleanup, go to: https://forms.gle/nxw7GyAeYt18uE7C6, and to learn more, visit: www.riversedgetrail.com and https://trailsinc.org.


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