By CHUCK OFFENBURGER
HERNDON, Iowa, Dec. 5, 2016 -- Only a bit of finishing work remains on the Raccoon River Valley Trail's newly-paved crossing of a gravel road on the north edge of this northern Guthrie County town -- that could happen this week -- and then a remarkable construction year on the RRVT will be completed.
Contracted construction crews and county employees in Greene, Guthrie and Dallas Counties managed to pave 18 trail crossings of gravel roads during 2016.
And that leaves only eight gravel crossings left to be paved, hopefully in 2017. Five of those are in Dallas County, and the other three are between the town of Yale and Iowa Highway 141 in Guthrie County.
If you've followed these improvements on the RRVT the last half-dozen years, you know that trail building knowledge and standards have increased dramatically. When the original RRVT was built in the late 1980s and through the 1990s, the asphalt or concrete surfaces generally ended at the fence lines when the trail approached gravel roads.
But as trail traffic increased, it became clear that riding bicycles over gravel approaches and gravel roads was dangerous. So when the 33-mile "north loop" was added to the RRVT in 2011, '12 and '13, the concrete trail surface was continued across the road approaches and across the actual gravel roadways, too.
But that meant the original 56 miles of the RRVT -- the so-called "south loop" -- had 30 or more unpaved crossings of gravel roads and a few driveways. More than half of those were in Dallas County.
The challenge of raising enough money to get all those crossings paved was a daunting one for Mike Wallace, Dan Towers and Joe Hanner -- the directors of the Conservation Boards in Dallas, Greene and Guthrie County. Those boards are the agencies that own and operate the RRVT.
Estimates for paving those crossings ranged from about $5,000 for the shorter, simpler crossings to about $15,000, maybe more, for the longer, more complex crossings -- some of which are on angles as they cross the roads, or or even on curves on the roads.
But the conservation directors and their boards have solicited grants from their respective community foundations; donations from corporations, organizations and individuals; money from some fundraising bicycle rides by tral advocates, and then a $124,000 grant from the Grow Greene County Gaming Corporation. That is the non-profit organization that holds the gambling license for the new Wild Rose Casino in Jefferson, and which is in charge of charitable distribution of a portion of the gambling receipts.
That huge grant allowed for the paving in 2016 of the 10 remaining RRVT crossings of gravel roads in Greene County. And with Guthrie County's completion of the paving of the gravel road on the edge of Herndon, that means that all RRVT road crossings from Jefferson to the loop on the trail are now paved. Officials in Greene County said that as soon as those crossings were completed, there was a noticeable jump in the number of trail users opting to pedal on to Jefferson.
“It’s great to complete these trail crossings as one project and to be done in one year," said Towers, of the work in Greene County. "The fact they were funded through local community grants tells us the importance of this trail to our communities.”
Meanwhile Wallace and Hanner said they'd love to hear from any traill advocates or others who'd like to help fund the paving next year of the RRVT's five remaining crossings of gravel roads in Dallas County and the three in Dallas County.