CEDAR RAPIDS — What once served as an early 20th century trolley line from Cedar Rapids to Mount Vernon may eventually become what project leaders envision as an “interurban trail.”
Alliant Energy has owned the roughly 13-mile corridor in recent years, and Linn County supervisors recently approved a memorandum of understanding to purchase the property for $309,000, with the intention of constructing a trail from Bever Park in Cedar Rapids to the Mount Vernon and Lisbon areas.
Government and economic development leaders are “trying to lure different businesses here, help businesses that are here develop and build all kinds of incentives to try to bring in workforce for various economic development projects,” said Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson. “But there wasn’t a ton of focus really on when you get here and you want to raise a family, you want things to do recreationally. It was siloed or was disconnected.”
The trail would most likely run along the old trolley line, which is intersected by a few city streets, and could be diverted onto county roads at times.
The trolleys were in use for about a decade until 1929 when automobile use and the Lincoln Highway became more popular, said Justin Foss, Alliant spokesperson. Once the trolley line closed, Alliant Energy purchased it to run transmission lines.
“Part of our focus is always on new development and making where we live good places to be,” Foss said. “This is land that we’ve had control over and we’ve had a need for, and that need is diminishing. And so it makes sense to work with somebody who can help make it something better.”
Oleson said there’s no specific timeline for the project. He said timing will likely be comparable to the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, which was years in the making starting in the 1980s.
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That trail, which runs from Cedar Falls through the Cedar Rapids area and connects to trails down to Iowa City, was just finished this spring with the completion of the Solon to Ely gap.
“Whenever you plan something of this magnitude, you’re talking about at least a decade,” Oleson said. “Portions would come online a little faster, but as far as connectivity, you’re talking at least a decade.”
The land is being surveyed now, he said, and when that is complete the county will approve a purchase agreement with Alliant. Once the county purchases the land, the intention is for the cities of Cedar Rapids and Mount Vernon to buy portions they wish to develop from the county, Oleson said.
The Linn County Conservation Board will take on the visioning process for the project and conduct various environmental studies, he said.
The trail project would be consistent with goals outlined in Linn County’s strategic plan, which include continued “investment in conservation and recreational infrastructure.”
“It’s all about reclamation of something that was useful for one purpose and now could be useful for recreation, and turning what some communities let become eyesores into where you play,” Oleson said, citing Mount Trashmore as another example. “We don’t have oceans and mountains. ... If we just put our investment to it and our minds to it, we can make things very enjoyable for the play part of live, work and play.”
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