- Associated Press - Sunday, November 2, 2014

BEATRICE, Neb. (AP) - More than $800,000 has been raised in support of Standing Bear Trail, which would connect the existing Homestead Trail south to the Kansas border, though the project is still without an owner.

The Lower Big Blue Natural Resources District is currently targeted as the most likely group to take ownership of the trail, but the board has expressed concerns, the Beatrice Daily Sun (https://bit.ly/1wOioht ) reported.

Dave Clabaugh, manager of the Lower Big Blue NRD, said if the NRD takes ownership of the trail, maintenance will be its responsibility, which has some board members squeamish.

“If we would own it, we would be responsible for the trail liability and any maintenance,” he said. “That’s been a big hang up for the board. They don’t want to use any tax money for that.”

According to information from the Nebraska Trails Foundation, the group currently has $816,000 for Standing Bear Trail, with a project construction cost estimated at $840,000.

The remaining cost plus $150,000 for maintenance and engineering fees will be funded by the trails foundation.

Much of the $150,000 would go to the NRD to use for trail maintenance, though Clabaugh said there’s no telling how long those funds would last.

“If the trail gets developed and everything goes alright, maintenance will be minimal at the start,” Clabaugh said. “As we go along, you get those maintenance issues. There are several bridges. Some of them are going to have the chance of washing out periodically or have debris that needs to be cleaned out.”

While trail enthusiasts hope the Lower Big Blue NRD will take ownership of the trail, Colleen Schoneweis, spokesperson for the Big Blue Biking Club, said there has been resistance to the proposal.

“There is a lot of concern (the NRD) won’t get behind this project,” she said. “There’s a lot of negative feedback we’re getting from a few board members who don’t want to vote for it.”

Schoneweis said a governmental body needs to take ownership of the trail, and the Lower Big Blue NRD was an obvious choice since the Lower Platte South NRD is responsible for the trail from the Lancaster County line.

The Nebraska Trails Foundation owns the nearly 20 miles from Beatrice to the Kansas border, with the exception of a little over two miles south of Beatrice owned by the City of Beatrice. Beatrice also owns the trail north to the County line.

Schoneweis said the estimated maintenance cost of the portion in question is $500-$1,500 per mile, amounting to anywhere from $10,000-$30,000 each year.

She emphasized that because the project and several years of maintenance costs will be funded, the trail would be a great project for the Lower Big Blue to get behind.

“The Nebraska Trails Foundation is basically giving the NRD, or whatever entity takes this over, $1 million,” Schoneweis said. “It’s like winning the lottery. They’re going to spend $850,000 to complete the trail and also give them $150,000 for maintenance.

“Everybody has this idea that the taxpayers will have to pay for it, but they won’t. We have the money to pay for it the next 10 years. The biggest argument we’re hearing is it will raise property taxes, but we don’t see how it could do that.”

In addition, Schoneweis said the Big Blue Biking Club and Homestead Running Club intend to host fundraising events for maintenance, which would also have an economic benefit on the area.

“This would bring a lot of positive things to Gage County,” she said. “It’s a very scenic trail. I really think with the different events that we could do - triathlons, running events and biking events - people would come from all over to do those things and need places to eat and stay.”

The ultimate goal is for the trail to extend 75 miles from Lincoln to Marysville, Kansas.

The Marshall County Connection owns 13 miles of trail route in Kansas, has developed nine miles and plans to complete their portion next year.

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Information from: Beatrice Sun, https://www.beatricedailysun.com

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