Multimillion dollar Johnson County trail projects near completion

Johnson County’s multimillion dollar trail project nears completion and shows a vision of a more connected Iowa.


Ryan Adams

Construction areas are pictured near Mehaffey Bridge on Thursday, March 14, 2019. The bridge and surrounding area are apart of the trail renovation project.

Andy Mitchell, News Reporter

As spring rolls in, Johnson County is close to completing several miles of trails to connect rural communities throughout the county and beyond.

The paved trails would be used for foot and bicycle traffic, a safety precaution to keep cyclists off the busiest roads.

Neil Shatek, project manager for the Iowa River Trail, said the project is about 85 percent complete. The trail paving began in March 2018, and preliminary work, including tree clearing, started in 2017.

“It was our intent to get done with the project last construction season, but with delays and wet weather, we didn’t end up getting finished last fall,” Shatek said.

Brad Freidhof, conservation program manager for the Johnson County Conservation Board, said the Iowa River Trail would end up costing just under $2.5 million. With around 2 miles of trail, he said, the rate of $1 million per mile is standard.

“When we talk about rural Johnson County, we’re talking about connectivity,” he said. “So we want to connect our community with communities outside of Johnson County.”

The county is also working on the Hoover Trail, which connects Linn County to Ely and Solon. Friedhof said the  6-mile trail’s project would end up costing $3.5 million.

County Supervisor Janelle Rettig said the concept for the Hoover Trail has been in the works for a couple of decades.

“Trail building is not for the impatient, but we’re finally making big progress on it,” she said.

Rettig, an advocate of cycling and nature trails, said trails have proven themselves over the years as incentives for community interaction and business ventures.

Freidhof said he thinks the network of trails would bring Iowans from the metropolitan parts of the state to more rural areas and referred to them as “destination trails.” Such amenities as well-managed, extensive park trails are things potential residents, students, and businesses look for, he said.

“Everybody’s plain white bread at first, but you want to see what are the extras that can bring somebody to that community,” Freidhof said.

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In addition to economic and recreational opportunity, the county hopes to bridge the divide between rural and urban Iowans. Freidhof said rural and urban Iowans can learn from each other when brought together by amenities such as the trails.

“You look at Johnson County and Iowa City, you see all the growth and development there, but you get out into rural Iowa, some of those small communities are shrinking,” Freidhof said.

Freidhof said that in the future, the county wants to connect the Hoover Trail to West Branch and the Herbert Hoover National Park Service site and connect the Clear Creek Trail to Kent Park and the Amana Colonies.

“When we start creating this triangular trail network, we become a destination,” he said.

Such neighboring states as Missouri and Minnesota have passed legislation to set aside funding for conservation and other projects, and Freidhof said that’s an area in which Iowa lags behind. As the world’s climate changes, he said, Iowa has to make a number of changes as well.

“I want to see us connected back to the landscape,” he said. “We need to do a lot for climate change; we really have an impact on this planet.”