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Officials broke ground Saturday for a trail that will someday link Council Bluffs with Underwood and Neola and hook up with trails leading to other communities.

The Railroad Highway Multi-Use Trail will begin at Smith Wildlife Area near the intersection of Railroad Highway and Husker Lane and run north along the highway. Work on the first segment, which will travel 1.8 miles to County Road L34, is underway and is scheduled for completion this year, said Brian Shea, chairman of the Pottawattamie County Trails Association.

“This will be the first of many trails across southwest Iowa, Iowa and even other states,” he said. “We hope to get out to Underwood sometime next year and, shortly after, to Neola.”

Jan Ehrens, deputy city clerk in Underwood, said before the ceremony that she was excited about the project.

“We live on a farm, and it’s difficult to ride,” she said.

The trail will provide a safe place away from all the traffic for bicyclists, Ehrens said.

Shea credited Mark Shoemaker, executive director of Pottawattamie County Conservation; and Brian Leaders of the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program with leading the effort to develop trails in the county and beyond.

“They had the vision, and they kept the drive,” he said.

Shoemaker started thinking about a county trail system seven years ago, he said.

“When I was park ranger at Long’s Landing, it was our responsibility to mow the (Wabash Trace Nature Trail),” he said. “I thought it was really neat to connect the communities, and I thought ‘wouldn’t it be neat to connect all the communities in Pottawattamie County.’

“Every community in Pottawattamie County was involved in this process,” Shoemaker said. “It’s going to be a big benefit to Pottawattamie County.”

Neola Mayor Pete Sorenson said the trail will boost economic development in the smaller towns by bringing people out from the cities.

“What small towns need is people — people to buy their goods and services,” he said. “This is a way to connect people to small towns. As mayor of Neola, we are super excited that this is going to come out there.”


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