- Associated Press - Sunday, June 29, 2014

BONDURANT, Iowa (AP) - A new $1.94 million trail connection will link two popular eastern Polk County trails and provide cyclists and others the opportunity to travel on the scenic path of an abandoned rail line, said Loren Lown, a Polk County Conservation administrator.

Plans call for the Chichaqua Valley Trail Connector to be completed in early 2015. The new six-mile trail will be built along where the Union Pacific rail line once ran between Northeast 29th Street in the Berwick area and Bondurant. The trail will be 10 feet wide.

The connection will link the Gay Lea Wilson Trail near Four Mile Creek in Berwick with the Chichaqua Valley Trail just east of Bondurant.

“People love it,” said Bondurant City Administrator Mark Arentsen of the plan that links trails in Des Moines, Pleasant Hill and Ankeny to the 21-mile-long Chichaqua trail that cuts through meadows, rolling farmland and woodlands in Polk and Jasper counties.

“It will be a much more user-friendly trail,” Arentsen told The Des Moines Register (http://dmreg.co/1uWYXxn).

A separate two-mile-long project already under construction within the city of Bondurant will serve to link the converted rail line to the Chichaqua Valley Trail.

On a recent pass through Berwick, which is on the northeast outskirts of Des Moines, Lown took notice of how the narrow road poses safety hazards to bicyclists.

“I wouldn’t want to ride on the road,” he said.

If Polk County Conservation Board members approve a bid for the project, Lown said crews are likely to break ground in August and have the trail finished by late spring or early summer of 2015. Gay Lea Wilson Trail users will be able to hook up with the Chichaqua Valley extender at Northeast 54th Avenue north of Interstate Highway 80, he said.

Plans call for the contractor to update culverts along the rail line and replace deck ties on a timber beam bridge. Contractors will also clear some trees and shrubs that are in the path of the future trail, Lown said.

The Chichaqua trail project keeps with the spirit of conservation found in other central Iowa trails built on old rail lines, officials said.

“This connection really is actually part of a bigger link in a trail system in central Iowa,” said Lisa Hein, program and planning director with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation.

“Rail-banked” corridors also make for great recreational trails, Hein said. The Raccoon River Valley, High Trestle and Summerset trails are other central Iowa projects that have been developed along abandoned rail lines.

A section of the National Trails System Act encourages preservation of rail transportation corridors. “They’re maintained intact - so what if someday 50 years from now, what if we decide to put in an electric train or something,” Hein said.

The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation helped officials from nine agencies acquire the land needed for the High Trestle Trail. Rail lines would rather work with one agency, Hein said. “Our role really is to help on the front end, to help get that land secure.”

Arentsen, the Bondurant city administrator, said the Chichaqua trail extension will open eastern Polk County up for exploration. He anticipates more cyclists venturing to Bondurant to check out bars and restaurants.

Trails are increasingly an economic development and transportation planning tool, Arentsen said. “I think it will be realistic to commute into Des Moines using a bicycle once the county is done,” he said.

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

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