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  • Sun April 24 2005
  • Posted Apr 24, 2005
By Sharon Baltes sharonbaltes@bpcdm.com Des Moines Business Record What does it cost to improve the quality of life in Des Moines? One popular amenity, multiuse trails, carries a price tag of about $500,000 per mile to build and several thousands of dollars each year to maintain. But many trail supporters, who include some local business people, say the cost is worth it for the new life they can potentially bring into the city. “I think trails are important as a recreational vehicle to get people downtown and add to the vibrancy of downtown as a whole,” said Art Slusark, the vice president of corporate communications and government relations for Meredith Corp. Last August, the publishing and broadcasting company’s charitable foundation donated $2 million to the city of Des Moines for a trail linking Gray’s Lake Park to downtown. Part of that project, the Meredith Trail, opened last month. The demand for trails, or “linear parks,” is high. Don Tripp, director of the Des Moines Parks and Recreation Department, says trails are “the most demanded public recreational facility that we have.” Currently, the city contains 28 miles of paved, multiuse trails are located inside the city, with several new pathways under construction or slated for the near future. Work on the Principal Riverwalk, which will be completed in 2008, is now underway with renovation work on an old railroad bridge off Court Avenue. Construction will begin this fall on project, the Walnut Creek Trail/American Discovery Trail, which will connect Des Moines to its western suburbs. “Trails are a high priority for us, because there is such a large demand,” Tripp said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to this point to have enough state and federal money coming into our system, and we’re going to do some trail counts this summer to make sure we are staying on top of their usage levels so we can plan for the future.” Private funding from major companies in Des Moines, such as Meredith and Principal Financial Group Inc., is helping the city build trails downtown at a faster pace than would have been possible otherwise, and Tripp said many smaller companies have also supported trail development. “Many of our trails wouldn’t have gotten built if businesses hadn’t supported our efforts by holding fund-raisers and making sacrifices with granting easements,” Tripp said. “The Gay Lea Wilson trail on the East Side is a good example of where we had to acquire private property along the way to build that trail.” RIVERFRONT REVITALIZATION They city of Des Moines had planned to spend about $1.3 million to build a 1.9-mile trail between Gray’s Lake and the former S.W. Fifth and Jackson Street bridge, when Meredith approached the city last August about kicking in an extra $2 million for the project. “When Ted Meredith passed away in February 2003, we were looking for a way to commemorate his legacy,” said Slusark. “He was a real big believer in trails and getting out to enjoy nature. When we saw what the city was planning for the trail, it only seemed natural that we be a part of it in Ted’s honor. And then, we got to thinking that it would be great for our employees.” The company’s $2 million contribution made it possible to widen the trail from 10 feet to 12 feet and pay for architectural and aesthetic improvements to two bridges and add amenities such as emergency phones, trail lighting, benches and a landscaped resting area. In addition, Meredith’s grant will finance the construction of two additional half-mile portions of trail. One of the segments will connect the Jackson Street and First Street pedestrian bridges with Court Avenue and the other half-mile will be along the east side of Fleur Drive to link Gray’s Lake with Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. Slusark said this latter pathway will be especially popular with many Meredith employees. “We’re excited from a personal standpoint for when we can get the link to Gateway West up,” he said. “That will enable our employees to have access to Gray’s Lake without risking their lives to cross the road or having to be on the lookout for gopher holes as they walk or jog along Fleur to the park, where there hasn’t been a sidewalk.” A portion of the Meredith Trail will meet up with the 1.2-mile Principal Riverwalk at Court Avenue. Both companies said they see their investments in the trail projects as creating immediate benefits for the community and its economic development efforts, and also helping them attract and retain good employees. “For us, the concept of quality-of-life amenities really integrates very well with recruiting and retaining a high-performing workforce,” said Libby Jacobs, Principal’s community relations director. “If we have great activities for people to do after work and on weekends, that’s just one more reason for them to want to locate here and stay in Central Iowa.” LEADING THE WAY It wasn’t by coincidence that three multiuse trails connected with Jordan Creek Town Center when it opened last summer. Clyde Evans, West Des Moines’ director of community development, said his city prides itself on connecting its parks and attractions through its trails. “Early on, when the Jordan Creek Town Center was under construction, we were very concerned about making sure we had that interconnectivity between the development and our trail system,” Evans said. “Certainly we felt that it was going to be a destination location for people within the area.” Evans said the city built pedestrian undercrossings at E.P True Parkway and Jordan Creek Parkway for the trails that extend to the shopping center. And it wasn’t the first time the city’s trail system had helped people reach shopping and attractions. Rick Roush, the owner of Jesse’s Embers restaurants in West Des Moines and Urbandale, liked the idea 10 years ago of attracting additional patrons to his 50th Street restaurant from nearby Jordan Creek Trail. Inspired by the San Antonio, Texas Riverwalk, he built a patio onto his restaurant with a Y-shaped path leading up to it from the trail, and he added a bike pad with storage racks and landscaped the whole area to attract passers-by. “We also installed a menu board outside between the trail and our restaurant where people could see the menu as they approached from the bike path,” Roush said. “They can come up from the trail and have a drink of water on our patio or stay for dinner if they like. If we can just get people to come in and have a drink of water, that’s worth it so they can come see our place.” Evans said he remembers Roush’s enthusiasm about tying together the trail with his business, but not every business in that area originally shared the restauranteur’s sentiments. The managers of the Dahl’s supermarket across the intersection of 50th Street were hesitant at first about connecting with the trail system, but eventually found it to be to their advantage, he said. “Initially, they questioned who was going to come into the store from the trail,” Evans said. “Since then, they’ve found that lots of people will push their kids in a stroller or a wagon while walking on the trail and come in to the store and do some shopping and go back out again.” The West Des Moines trail system is connected to many parks and neighborhoods, which Evans said can sometimes be a selling point for people considering moving to the area. “West Des Moines has always had a very good trail system, and people who move here often say that our trail system was one of the factors that entered into their decision to move here.” REGIONAL COLLABORATION In 2003, the Greater Des Moines Partnership put together a regional recreational trails advisory council as part of its Project Destiny growth proposal, which the group will present to voters this fall. The Partnership’s trails council said Central Iowa could become “the recreation trails capital” of the world if Des Moines and surrounding communities take a regional look at linking their “green infrastructure.” Carlisle Mayor Ruth Randleman belongs to the Metropolitan Advisory Council, which supports the Partnership’s vision for collaboration. “Trails are a real community attraction, and I think they bring with them great potential for economic development,” Randleman said. “If we really promote a regional trail system, I think Carlisle would benefit from that by people doing their destination bicycling and visiting our community.” Carlisle is working on design and engineering plans this year for extending the Summerset Trail, which currently runs from Indianola to Summerset, from Summerset to Carlisle. When that project is complete, Randleman would like to see another multiuse trail connect her town of about 3,500 to Des Moines’ trail system. “If my trail system is good, it helps Des Moines’ trail system be better, and if Des Moines’ trail system is good, it gives me somewhere to connect to,” Randleman said. “The more we hook up and the more effort that is put toward trails as a region, I think the whole trail system will benefit.” Trails by numbers: Iowa has 1,350 miles of multi-use bicycle and pedestrian trails. Central Iowa has about 360 miles of trails, with approximately 28 miles inside Des Moines. Trail construction in an urban, built-up environment, such as within the city of Des Moines, costs about $500,000 per mile for a 10 to 12-foot wide asphalt trail, verses building trails in open space, which costs about $200,000 to $300,000 per mile. Trail maintenance for urban trails with lights and call boxes costs about $16,000 per mile per year, when factoring in asphalt replacement over a 20-year period. Maintenance on a typical trail costs about $8,000 per mile annually. The state receives about $5.5 million annually in federal funding for developing new trails and major rehabilitation of existing ones. Sources: Iowa Department of Transportation and Des Moines Parks and Recreation Department.

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