The Ply part of the PlyWood Trail isn't locked in.
The proposed $10 million recreational trail linking Le Mars and Sioux City has hit a major stumbling block over the issue of who would own the segment of the pathway in rural Plymouth County.
The private group of trail enthusiasts who have pledged to raise funds for the construction and future maintenance of the trail believe it would make the most sense for the Plymouth County Conversation Board to take ownership. But that five-member board, after a recent meeting, said they "couldn't commit to the project at this time."
"We are respectfully declining ownership and maintenance responsibilities," Conservation Board Director Nick Beeck said.
Beeck said he is drafting a letter to the PlyWood Trail Advisory Board, advising the group it should look for a different entity to own the trail. The letter will encourage the trail group not to delay the project in hopes the board's decision will change.
The conservation board's decision is tied to the chilly reception the trail issue has received from the Plymouth County Board of Supervisors, which approves the conservation board's budget.
In a November letter to the PlyWood Trail Board, the supervisors said they are "generally in favor of the project so long as no county property tax dollars are being requested for the construction and the maintenance of the trail."
In an interview last week, county supervisors chairman Don Kass, of rural Remsen, said the board is "not anti-bike trail," but contended only 2 percent of people are avid bicyclists. Kass said it is not fair for the county to use tax money to give to the county conservation board for maintenance costs, since some county residents living some distance from the trail will never use it or "never lay eyes on it."
Kass said the sole solution is for the PlyWood trail group to officially register as a non-profit entity, take ownership of the trail, and commit to assuming the full trail construction and subsequent maintenance costs.
"I admire the passion of the group...They are not being completely realistic on the upfront costs and the long-term costs of maintenance," Kass said.
While it is possible for the group to own the trail as a non-profit, PlyWood Trail board member Greg Grupp, a retired Sioux City banker who is also the chairman of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation Board, notes that from his review of trails in Iowa, it is not a best practice for private foundations to do so.
PlyWood Trail board member Jeff Stanley said a foundation could have fluidity in membership, and subsequent members might not keep the endeavor going. That's why he said ownership by a local governmental body in Plymouth County is essential.
"Without their support or partnership, it will be difficult to maintain this trail," Stanley said. "...I live and hope that the board of supervisors see the value in this trail and how we might bet partner in meeting their concerns."