A new organization was formed in early 2006 to market and promote the Raccoon River Valley Trail in west central Iowa.
The Raccoon River Valley Trail Association, a non-profit membership group, also facilitates tourism and economic development initiatives up and down the 89-mile-long paved trail, the first parts of which were constructed and opened in 1989. The trail now stretches from Jefferson on the north, to the Des Moines metro area on the southeast. A 33-mile “north loop” through Perry was completed in 2013, making the RRVT the longest trail in Iowa and one of the longest in the nation.
The association grew out of a task force of about 10 members that worked during late 2004 and 2005 on several trail-related projects. Those include a specially-designed and coordinated new $50,000 signage system, which was installed and has been added to as the trail was extended. They also set goals of encouraging the development and/or construction of permanent restroom facilities and overnight accommodations in all the towns along the trail – even the smallest of them.
We think our association might be the first ever formed in the state to promote one specific trail. We think of our organization like a Chamber of Commerce for the whole Raccoon River Valley Trail.
Once the RRVT was networked into the Des Moines metro trail system during 2006, the number of annual users on the RRVT began to steadily grow, to an estimated 125,000 people per year thru 2012. The RRVT Association projects that number could triple or quadruple in the years ahead, with the completion of the north loop and more amenities being developed along the trail.
“One of the things we’ve done is study other trails around the nation, to determine what kind of amenities the trail users really want,” said Carla Offenburger, of Cooper, a former board member and founding chairperson of the association. “The one we’ve really modeled most of our ideas from is the Root River State Trail in southeast Minnesota, which is the economic engine that has built a $25 million per year tourism industry in Fillmore County – and that’s a rural area in that state.”
The RRVT is owned and managed by the conservation boards in Greene, Guthrie and Dallas Counties. The three county conservation directors – Dan Towers in Greene, Joe Hanner in Guthrie and Mike Wallace in Dallas – serve as ex-officio members of the RRVT Association board of directors.
Other board members are trails advocates Bob Wilson, of Perry; Phyllis Drake, of Scranton; Michelle Fields, of Paton; Cooper Riley, of West Des Moines; Bif Ridgway of West Des Moines; Jason Tuel of Waukee; Mary Laborde of Perry; Sandy Lowe from Panora; Stan Boyer of Dallas Center; Amy Lucht of Adel, Erich Kretzinger of Boone, Jake Wendler of Perry and Keith Troester of Adel.
In early 2016, Cooper Riley was elected the new chairperson of the board, more recently Mary Laborde took over as vice-chairperson, Michelle Fields as secretary and Keith Troester as treasurer.
The board generally meets the second Thursday of the month, beginning at 7:30 a.m., at the Dallas County Conservation offices on the southeast edge of Perry, just off Iowa Highway 141.
The association launched this site www.RaccoonRiverValleyTrail.org on May 1, 2006, with information and features about the trail itself, as well as attractions and businesses in the communities located on and near the trail. The association hired David Harrenstein, of Lanesboro Web Management Group in Lanesboro, Minnesota, to develop the site. Harrenstein, a native Iowan, is webmaster of several sites affiliated with the Root River State Trail in Minnesota and several sites for organizations and local governments in Iowa. In early 2009, Chris Brocka of G.Rafics, Inc., based in Adel, took over as webmaster and spearheaded a total redesign of the site. In 2013, Justin Lobaito, based in Des Moines, took over webmaster duties. Those changes reflect the association’s goal of doing as much business as possible with companies in the RRVT communities.
The RRVT Association was started with $3,000 in donations arranged by the conservation directors of the three counties along the trail.
We work with communities all along the trail in the three counties, helping them to develop new businesses and attractions that will interest trail users and other tourists. At the same time, we are promoting the trail with bicyclists and other recreation enthusiasts across the nation and around the world. We are making the RRVT a real destination for trail users.
Annual activities include a winter banquet for RRVT Association donors and trail advocates; partnering with various groups to promote activities such as the “Market to Market Relay/Iowa” in May and two June events – “Tour the Raccoon” and the “BACooN” ride. Each of these events bring anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 riders to the RRVT. We have a new vicycling/musical event, “Pedaler’s Jamboree,” coming to the trail on Labor Day weekend in the fall of 2015, and we anticipate it will bring even more bikers onto the trail and into the trail communities!
Another enthusiastic and interested group that helps with the various events and works at the RRVTA display booth to hand out information and promote the trail is the Ambassadors of the RRVTA. This is a fantastic group of volunteers who are passionate about the Raccoon River Valley Trail and their communities.