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  • Posted Jun 22, 2009

"This is a momentous step for this trail. The benefits of adding 33 miles to a hard-surfaced trail that is already 56 miles along, and already connects into the state’s largest city, will be significant in all three counties and all 15 towns that are on the trail.” ~ Carla Offenburger

As taken from the Raccoon River Valley Trail Association Website The state’s Vision Iowa board, meeting here Wednesday, announced a $1.6 million award of Community Attraction & Tourism funds to help complete the expansion of the Raccoon River Valley Trail through Dallas, Guthrie and Greene counties and 15 communities just west and north of the Des Moines metropolitan area. “With any fundraising project, there are lots of peaks and valleys,” said Mike Wallace, director of the Dallas County Conservation Board, who was at the meeting and accepted the award. “We’ve had several valleys on this project to expand the RRVT, and today is one of the real peaks.” The award came after a year and a half of work by Wallace and other supporters of the RRVT. Success has helped create more success. In early March this year, it was announced that the RRVT is receiving up to $945,000 in federal economic stimulus money to pay for the resurfacing of about five miles of the trail between Panora and Yale in Guthrie County. That is the last original section of the trail that has never been resurfaced, and it has deteriorated badly. With the Vision Iowa award Wednesday, it means there has been a new commitment to the RRVT of more than $2.5 million just in the past four months. Wallace said Wednesday that he’d ” be scared to try to put a number on how many hours went into preparing the Vision Iowa application, then re-doing it different times, then providing the Vision Iowa board with updates, and going to meetings with them. I remember putting a lot of nights and weekends into it during the fall and winter of 2007-2008. I’d sit at home with the ball games on TV and my laptop in front of me, working on the application.” Carla Offenburger, president of the Raccoon River Valley Trail Assoociation, which serves like a Chamber of Commerce to market and promote the RRVT, made it clear that Wednesday’s Vision Iowa award “is a momentous step for this trail. The benefits of adding 33 miles to a hard-surfaced trail that is already 56 miles along, and already connects into the state’s largest city, will be significant in all three counties and all 15 towns that are on the trail.” Offenburger, of Cooper, said she “can’t acknowledge enough the work done by so many individuals as we’ve raised funds, applied for grants and otherwise prepared for this award. Most importantly, Mike Wallace has been instrumental in all aspects of this, including building this trail system over the years and this recent grant process. He is an invaluable resource for many trail advocates, and I’m pleased he sits on the board of the RRVT Association as we move forward now to get the loop completed and in use.” Wallace, 50, has been the Dallas County conservation director since early 2002. He has been full-time in conservation work for 28 years, and that included 10 earlier years as conservation director in Guthrie County, which shares the trail with Greene and Dallas Counties. In fact, Wallace was involved from the RRVT’s beginning, going back to when the railroad abandoned the right-of-way that would become the trail. Opening day for the first stretches of the trail was in early October, 1989. The total cost of the latest RRVT expansion project — the one Vision Iowa has just funded — has fluctuated since the application for funding was filed in January, 2008. The fluctuation came during deliberations on whether various trailside amenities in the towns along the way, were to be included or excluded. Ultimately, the Vision Iowa board said it wanted to participate only in the development and building of the 33-mile “North Loop” trail addition. The total cost of that project is projected at $6,655,696. Counting the new award from Vision Iowa, Wallace and his support team have now raised $5,855,696 of that total cost. That leaves $800,000 left to raise, and the Vision Iowa board imposed a deadline of 180 days — or until about January 1, 2010 — for that fundraising to be completed. “That’s a lot of money to raise in a short time,” Wallace acknowledged. “However, having the 180 days gives us time to apply for, and find out if we receive, a State Recreational Trails Grant this year.” There is an application deadline for that State Recreational Trails Grant looming on July 1. “We will be putting a lot of emphasis on that grant opportunity,” Wallace said. “And, of course, we’ll continue to work really hard with corporations, organizations and individuals who have shown an interest in helping us complete the trail.” Vision Iowa chairperson Regenia Bailey, who is also mayor of Iowa City, said during a final negotiating session with Wallace and other RRVT advocates on Tuesday afternoon, that “of course we’d like to be able to give you full funding for the whole project, but you’ve told us and we really believe, that building the trail is the most important part of this. Once the trail is built, then the amenities will get built. And there’s nothing to stop your communities from coming back to us and seeking funding for various amenities in their towns.” On Wednesday, Carla Offenburger, the RRVT Association president, said it is indeed an ideal time for the 15 trail communities “to step up your individual community projects that are trail-related, and to make your plans to market your trail amenities. If the towns do that now, they will be well-situated for the influx of trail users who will be coming from all over the Midwest and beyond to experience 89 miles of paved trail.” Offenburger, who lives near the trail just south of Cooper, added: “The investment made now on local trail-related projects will pay off down the road.” Specific terms of the Vision Award to the RRVT were worked out in the Tuesday negotiating session, and will be finalized in a formal contract in the next couple of weeks, officials of the program said. Basically, the $1.6 million grant will be spread out over the next four of state government’s fiscal years, which run July 1 to June 30. The 2010 fiscal year starts this coming July 1. “Yes, that’s going a little slower than we had hoped for,” Wallace acknowledged later. “But I understand why the Vision Iowa people want to do that. That lets them spread out their resources to more projects around the state, over a longer period of time. They have to try to please people who have lots of good projects, and that’s good for the whole state. “We had hoped to get all our financing in order so that we could be done with the trail addition in 2010,” Wallace continued. “But let’s look at the reality of the situation. If we weren’t getting any Vision Iowa funding at all, we’d easily be looking at another five years or longer to raise money through the normal grant processes that we have available to us. You think about four fiscal years, and it seems a long time, but it’s possible that we could complete the whole trail in three construction seasons that would stretch into four fiscal years. That would let us get things done a little faster.” He predicted that having the Vision Iowa award now, and knowing the timetable, “is really going to help us. “The fact that we do have solid numbers now — $1.6 million with $800,000 left to raise — and now knowing when we’ll be able to complete all this, that sets a light we can see at the end of the tunnel,” Wallace continued. “That is going to provide more energy for people who are interested in helping with the trail. They are now able to see when it’s going to happen, and I think we’ll see a lot more of them jumping on the bandwagon to help us get it done.” Participating in the negotiating session on Tuesday for the Vision Iowa program were board members Bailey, Cathy Reece, Charese Yanney and Tammy Robinson and the program’s manager Alaina Santizo. Participating for the RRVT were Wallace; Joe Hanner, conservation director in Guthrie County; Butch Niebuhr, city administrator of Perry; Bob German, retired banker and tree farm owner, of Dallas Center, and Iowa writer Chuck Offenburger, of Cooper. All are board members of the RRVT Association. In Wednesday’s Vision Iowa board meeting, the motion that the RRVT project be awarded $1.6 million was made by Reece, a former county supervisor from Chariton in south central Iowa, and the board voted unanimously in favor of it. Vision Iowa is now operating for a 10th fiscal year in Iowa. Created during the administration of Governor Tom Vilsack, it uses some of the state government’s receipts from the burgeoning gambling industry to help pay for public projects — most of them have become public-private partnerships. These projects have indeed enriched and transformed the state, with new arenas, waterfronts, convention centers, community centers, aquatic centers, recreation centers, auditoriums, trails and more. Initially, it was set up so that projects costing more than $20 million would receive Vision Iowa funds, while those costing less than $20 million would be funded from a separate Community. Attraction & Tourism fund also administered by the Vision Iowa Board. More than $288 million in Vision Iowa funds were allocated for 14 big projects around the state which had a total cost of $1.2 billion. From the CAT funds, $111.4 million has been allocated to 311 projects around the state that had a total cost of $792 million. The program has been continued during the administration of current Governor Chet Culver. However, the Iowa Legislature decided not to add to the Vision Iowa funds, once they ran out, saying they felt enough of the biggest projects were now constructed. However, it has extended funding of the CAT program, now through the 2013 fiscal year, to encourage more of the smaller projects all over the state. As the state’s economy soured the last two years, there was a time when the state government funding of the Vision Iowa/CAT program was suspended, but then it was restored. And the make-up of the Vision Iowa board changed over that time, too. “When I talked about the peaks and valleys of this project,” Wallace said, “we were in a real valley when it looked questionable whether the Vision Iowa/CAT program was ever going to be funded again. And we’d worked closely with Andy Anderson, who had served as chairman of the Vision Iowa board, and Andy’s term on the board ran out this spring, and so we were worried whether new board members would be interested in our project. But in working with them the last couple of months, that’s turned out not to be a worry at all. They ‘got it’ right away.” As you can see on a trail map available on the RRVT's website, the currently 56-mile RRVT starts on the north in Jefferson and extends south and east through Cooper, Herndon, Yale, Panora, Linden, Redfield, Adel, Waukee and into Clive, where the RRVT connects with the trail system in the Des Moines metro area. The new 33-mile addition will run east from Herndon through the towns of Jamaica, Dawson and Perry, then southeast through Minburn and Dallas Center to connect again with the current RRVT on the northwest corner of Waukee. For more information, or to register for any of our programs and events: Call: 515-465-3577 Email: conservation@co.dallas.ia.us

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