The Central Iowa Trail Network is just one example of the success of Iowa’s Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) program, which was signed into law 25 years ago today.
Synonymous with healthier living through outdoor recreation, central Iowa’s trails give Iowa the good name it deserves. Being one with nature while exploring Iowa has never been easier — thanks to 676 miles of mostly connected trails that saturate the greater Des Moines region.
From deer and turkey sightings during long tree-lined stretches to great blue herons and white pelicans in wetland environments, nature is on display along every turn through central Iowa trails. At a slower pace a tranquil Iowa landscape becomes apparent. Butterfly gardens, bird watching, beaches, camping, historic museums, pioneer cemeteries, lake views, and patches of native wildflowers and grasses round out the Central Iowa Trail Network experience.
“For Iowa to be able to attract and retain a quality work force, we need to be able to offer people recreational opportunities after 5 p.m., when people get off work,” said DNR Director Chuck Gipp.
“Here in Iowa, we have been highly successful at using REAP to leverage millions of dollars from other sources to create and maintain one of the best trails systems in the United States. Trail development makes our state more attractive for economic development and healthier by providing high quality recreational opportunities,” said Gipp.
A variety of routes enable Iowans and visitors from around the country to enjoy a range of prime, unspoiled Iowa scenery that can’t be seen by hurried commuters traveling over crowded highways. Central Iowa’s recreational trails offer views that range from oak uplands to bottomland and shaded forest to prairie, like those seen on the Neil Smith Trail that connects Saylorville Lake with downtown Des Moines.
According to a 2011 study by UNI’s Dr. Sam Lankford, cyclist commuters generate $51,965,317 in direct and indirect economic impact to the State of Iowa. The bicycle commuter population is estimated to save Iowa $13,266,020 in health care costs. Recreational riders create $364,864,202, while saving $73,942,511 in health costs.
Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation Program Director Lisa Hein said, “We’ve had the advantage of having discontinued railroad corridors to build trails on, otherwise we would not have nearly as extensive a system as we do have. Unfortunately the railroads couldn’t make it in these areas, but luckily we are bringing people and using those corridors for transportation creatively — building economic development in a more diverse way.
“I think it says we’re really hungry for ways to get outside and into nature. Re-using these railroad corridors is a very environmentally friendly way to get people outside without taking away lands that are under other uses.”
Hein explained, “The REAP program really helps towns along the trails. It helped Slater and Sheldahl connect as part of the High Trestle Trail. [REAP] funds were leveraged with other federal grants to build that mile of trail.”
REAP grants originally purchased the right of way to the railroad through Slater that is now part of High Trestle Trail. The locally well-known and nationally acclaimed High Trestle Trail Bridge between Woodward and Madrid lights the night sky with its mesmerizing LED display.
Additional REAP funding paid for the Grimm Park trailhead in Slater that now offers more paved parking, new restroom facilities and planned educational signs along the trail. Slater Economic Development Coordinator Jennifer Davies emphasized, “In a community our size, we would have never been able to do that kind of a project without REAP dollars, so it was very important to be able to enhance the trail system with those REAP dollars.”
Davies said several residents were leery of the benefits trails would bring to Slater at the start of the project. Ten years later that attitude is completely gone — replaced by better health and business growth. Davies said the town’s residential district has also been growing as a result of the trail, and commented on the cross-town cooperation of businesses that promote special events, bringing in money to local economies. Small towns along Central Iowa Trails Network have benefited economically, with new restaurants, bars, bike rental stores, coffee and ice cream shops sprouting up to get a piece of the recreational action.
The City of Bondurant has awarded a contract to construct about two miles of trail going east from the downtown Bondurant Regional Trailhead to the existing Chichaqua Valley Trail (CVT). REAP funding of $75,000 has already paved Bondurant’s trailhead, with an additional $75,000 grant that will build a two-mile trail connecting the trail. According to a 2010 study by Dr. Daniel Otto of Iowa State University, the CVT generates an estimated $240,000 in sales, $47,000 in income, and three additional jobs annually.
Bondurant City Administrator Mark Arentsen said of the Chichaqua Trail, “Our trailhead [built in 2012] is already a popular location with Bondurant residents. People use it regularly for outdoor community events or just to stop and meet friends. It's a great community gathering place that wouldn't be possible without REAP's participation.”
“The City Recreation Department uses thetrails for walking and running programs, which have more participants every year. We frequently see people use the trails for physical fitness and recreation. New residents have commented on the city's trails and say that the city's growing trail network is one of the reasons they moved to Bondurant, and we wouldn't be able to continue expanding these trails without REAP funding.”
Finished in 2013 with the help of REAP funds, the Raccoon River Valley Trail loop’s “phenomenal usage” is testament to the viability of Central Iowa Trails Network’s goal of connecting major trails. The Raccoon River Valley Trail alone runs for 53 miles through 11 cities and four counties, much of which is lined with trees and gives the feeling of being under a shaded canopy. More than half of these cities have received REAP funding to connect trail segments and develop trail heads with restrooms and parking lots.
Heavy woods along the Clive Greenbelt Trail lead to Campbell Recreational Area, which contain softball fields, tennis courts, picnic areas, restrooms and handicap-accessible play equipment. Always looking to improve Iowans’ quality of life, planned trail extensions will connect Jordan Creek Trail with the Clive Greenbelt Trail, Gray’s Lake, Great Western Trail and John Pat Dorrian Trail — all connected to Raccoon River Valley Recreational Trail. Paved trails were found to be the most requested facilities by Iowans as outlined in the 2012 State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan.
In its 25 years, REAP has benefited every county in Iowa by supporting 14,535 projects. REAP has funded these projects with $264 million in state investments, leveraging two to three times the amount in private, local and federal dollars.
Collectively, these projects have improved the quality of life for all Iowans with better soil and water quality; added outdoor recreation opportunities; sustained economic development; enhanced knowledge and understanding of our ecological and environmental assets, and preserved our cultural and historic treasures.
More information about the 25th Anniversary of REAP and projects by county can be found at www.iowadnr.gov/REAP25.
For more information, contact Tammie Krausman, coordinator, Resource Enhancement and Protection Program, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 515-281-8382. hotos are available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.