Trail work is largely dormant during the winter months, especially when the weather is as bad as we had this year. But during the off-season, plans for a number of projects impacting trails have been moving forward. Below is a brief update.
Rock Island to Jamaica North Connector Bridge
This project will likely benefit more LTC members than any other. Lincoln’s most popular trail, the Rock Island, currently terminates on its southern end at Densmore Park near the Cooper YMCA. Yet tantalizingly close is the Jamaica North Trail and Wilderness Park—down a steep embankment and across two very active railway lines with no trespassing signs courtesy of the BNSF Railway. But the city of Lincoln has unveiled a $1.2 million plan to span that gap with a bridge over active rail lines to an old bridge used by the Rock Island when it was still operating. Down ramps would connect with the Jamaica North Trail.
Such a bridge would be a godsend for runners who live in southwest Lincoln or run from the Cooper YMCA by providing a safe, direct access to Jamaica North. That trail is ideal for long training runs. Head north and you can go downtown or to Pioneers’ Park; head south and you can go all the way to Marysville, Kansas, if you are so inclined. And many runners prefer a soft limestone surface to cement when doing high mileage training. The Jamaica North Trail is a hidden gem, significantly underutilized because of the limited connections to other trails.
The city hopes to begin construction in September 2019 but the project is by no means a done deal. Cooperation of the railroad is required and the Great Plains Trails Network (GPTN) has to undertake a major fundraising campaign. Yet I am optimistic because much of the impetus for this comes from concerns about railway crossing safety. There are dedicated sources of revenue to enhance the safety of railway crossings; indeed much of the planning and design work is being funded by a grant from the Railway Transportation Safety District. Runners and bikers are not supposed to cross the active rail lines to reach Jamaica North, and the railway has posted no trespassing signs along the route. But as anyone who runs along the trail knows, paths from the trail made by foot traffic are common. Particularly concerning to government officials is that they have observed pedestrians and bikers crawling under parked trains. The long freight trains could start up at any minute and might result in severe injury or worse. The bridge would greatly enhance safety, which is a key factor in getting it funded.
Actually many of our major, most expensive trails that runners and bikers enjoy exist as a side benefit of other projects. The beautiful Antelope Valley trail system was a by-product of the major flood control project; most of the nice underpasses with skylights under rebuilt roads like the Williamsburg Trail under Pine Lake or the Billy Wolff Trail under Pioneers, 84th Street and Old Cheney serve as backup conduits for a hundred-year flood, something required for construction. But we can enjoy the side-benefits—great recreational trails.
Changes Coming to the MoPac East
If you enjoy the rural character of the MoPac East Trail when you run from 84th Street to Walton, get out and enjoy it in the next few months. With the opening of the Stevens Creek watershed for development, urban Lincoln is moving east. Expect major changes along the MoPac east to 98th Street. Sleepy 94th Street, which is an entrance for the Hillcrest Country Club, now crosses the trail. But in a few months townhomes are likely to be built along both sides of the street, and the MoPac is likely to be moved to some extent and certainly paved. You can still enjoy the rural setting but you will need to start in Walton.
Rock Island Detour at Sheridan Bridges
I am at risk of being the “boy who cried wolf.” In the last two newsletters I have mentioned an impending detour on the Rock Island Trail under Sheridan. Work on drainage and surface repair will close the trail for at least one month. However, work has yet to be started on this project. Coordination between different government agencies and a contractor as well as weather issues have continually delayed the start of the project. The city now reports that work should finally begin this spring. We’ll see.
Salt Creek Levee Trail Extension Northeast: A Clarification on the Route
The last link in the Salt Creek Levee Trail Extension from Haymarket Park to Superior Street is now complete. The new link does have a complicated route. Runners heading northeast on the trail can go under 14th Street (just northwest of the Devaney Center) but will need to return to street level and head north on the sidewalk. Just before getting to the Hibner Soccer Stadium, turn east and take the new trail along the north side of Oak Creek. The latter merges with Salt Creek a short distance east. At Cornhusker Highway loop up to street level and cross the bridge to the east side of the creek and loop back down to the underpass under Cornhusker. It is a bit complicated, but it works.
LTC Stalwart Lynn Lightner Honored for Trail Work
Veteran LTC members will certainly recognize the name Lynn Lightner. A lifelong runner and biker, Lynn has been a steadfast volunteer, often hauling the LTC trailer to races and erecting and dismantling the scaffolding for the finish line. What people may not know is that Lynn, a retired engineer, has been a driving force behind trail development in Nebraska. The national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy just gave Lynn and his close friend Ross Greathouse the 2017 Doppelt Family Trail Champion Award. Ross has focused on fundraising and grant writing for major trail projects in Nebraska and surrounding states. Lynn has been responsible for more than forty bridges on such trails as MoPac East, Oak Creek, Jamaica North, and Homestead. When a rail-to-trail conversion is underway, Lynn organizes a volunteer crew and heads out with a stack of two-by-fours.
Lynn and Ross were particularly recognized for their last project, the Chief Standing Bear Trail that links the Homestead Trail at Beatrice twenty-three miles south to the Kansas border. The trail has been deeded to the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska. In typical fashion Lynn and Ross donated the cash prize to the maintenance fund for the Chief Standing Bear Trail. If you see Lynn at a race (probably working at the finish line) please thank him for his trail work.
See you on the trails!