CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Valley Nature Trail, which passes through Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and Cedar Falls, would be one of 12 gateway trails that would anchor a proposed 4,000-mile national bike trail, spurring excitement from local leaders.
Among those is Steve Sovern, a member of ConnectCR, which is leading a $20 million effort to restore Cedar Lake and build the Smokestack pedestrian bridge over the Cedar River. The lake and bridge would be situated on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, a north-south trail in Eastern Iowa, and thus could be highlights of the proposed Great American Rail-Trail.
“The impact in the community will be huge,” Sovern said. “Not everyone in the world will be riding coast-to-coast. People will look for particularly interesting places along the trail where they can jump on. When Cedar Rapids has ConnectCR completed, it will be a huge invitation for people looking to ride to begin in the Heartland.”
The Washington, D.C.-based Rails-to-Trails Conservancy announced earlier this year the vision for an east-west bike trail and “an unprecedented commitment to creating an iconic piece of American infrastructure.”
Cedar Rapids is also expected to be a stop of the American Discovery Trail, another cross-country bike trail. While there would be some overlap in the Midwest, the biggest difference is the Great American Rail-Trail is aiming to be “100 percent off-street” and multiuse for bikers and walkers across the country, said Kevin Belanger, a trail planner for Rails-to-Trails.
Nationally, the Great American Rail-Trail would extend through 12 states and the District of Columbia, traveling through Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland before reaching Washington, D.C.
More than half the trail would rely on established trail systems including the 11-mile Capital Crescent Trail in Washington, D.C., and Maryland; the 185-mile Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park in Washington, D.C., and Maryland; the 29-mile Panhandle Trail in Pennsylvania and West Virginia; the 270-mile Ohio to Erie Trail in Ohio; the 61-mile Cardinal Greenway in Indiana; 100-plus mile Hennepin Canal Parkway in Illinois; 52 miles of the Cedar Valley Nature Trail in Iowa; the 219-mile Cowboy Recreation and Nature Trail in Nebraska; the 6-mile Casper Rail Trail in Wyoming; the 12-mile Headwaters Trail System in Montana; the 72-mile Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes in Idaho; and the 200-mile Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail in Washington.
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Existing trails and a desire to avoid the desert naturally guided the route to the northwest, and the trail infrastructure in Iowa and the popularity of RAGBRAI made Iowa a good fit, Belanger said.
“The Great American Rail-Trail is a bold vision — one that will take years to complete,” Keith Laughlin, Rails-to-Trails president, said in a news release. “The investment of time and resources necessary to complete this trail will be returned many times over as it takes its place among the country’s national treasures.”
It would be the “single greatest trail project in the history of the U.S.,” he said.
The route was selected over an 18-month review, but the concept is decades old. A full route map is expected to be announced in May.
Tom Peffer, past president of the Linn County Trails Association, said the trail would be good news for cyclists and would create activity for the community as well as business development opportunities.
“We are perfectly positioned to handle a tremendous amount of bike traffic,” he said. “Not every person who likes to bike likes biking across the country, but many bikers do like riding a long ways.”
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