Special thanks to Sara Hartzell, planner with Lincoln Parks and Recreation for her help with this report.
The past few weeks have been as discouraging as any I can remember. One by one familiar spaces in our lives—office, church, gym, favorite restaurant, library, barber shop, homes of friends—are gone, very poorly replaced by a computer screen and a home desk. I find myself both claustrophobic and bored. But there has been a ray of sunshine—getting out on Lincoln’s trails. We’ve actually had some nice weather and with most other places closed to us, getting out the trails has been a lifesaver.
Much of Lincoln must feel the same way for there have been unprecedented crowds since the virus showed up. In some ways there are too many—it can be difficult to maintain that six feet of separation. And frankly many of these are “newbies” who are unfamiliar with trail rules and etiquette. Litter, dog poop, and people blocking trails can be frustrating for veteran users. Some serious runners have abandoned the familiar Rock Island and Billy Wolff Trails for the less crowded Dietrich, Murdock, Salt Creek Levee, and Bison Trails. Still, the trails are a blessing for all. I have for many years been an avid trail user and supporter, giving time, money, and energy to groups like the Great Plains Trails Network and the Lincoln Track Club to support trail development. At this moment I feel that this has been truly worth all the effort.
More good news—weather this spring has been much better for construction than in recent years so progress is being made on a number of trail projects.
Rock Island to Jamaica North Bridge Project—will be ready before you know it
This has certainly been the biggest trail project of recent years requiring major fundraising by GPTN and involving many public and private groups. Our most popular trail, the Rock Island, has its current southern end in Densmore Park where the trail then meanders off toward the Cooper YMCA and Bess Dodson Library. The old Rock Island railway itself (and the subsequent right-of-way) continued south on bridges spanning rail tracks below into what is now Wilderness Park. This project will create an elevated span over to the Jamaica North Trail. If you can’t quite visualize this, go to the New Projects section of the GPTN website and click on the video produced by Olsson and Associates to see the connection come alive.
Work is underway on this project. Crews working from Densmore Park have removed trees along the old rail line right-of-way (see the photo at the top of the page) and have begun shoring up the first bridge span. Work will continue over the summer with the anticipation that the connector will be open late next fall. Just as the leaves begin to turn, runners will have a whole new series of running routes in southwest Lincoln.
New Up North
Some of Lincoln’s fastest growing residential neighborhoods are up north both in Fallbrook and along 14th Street north of I-80 to Alvo Road. The city has recently completed a trail connection along the south side of Alvo Road to the North 14th Street Trail with a link into Kooser Elementary School. The trail link continues west along Alvo Road into Fallbrook where it connects with Schoo Middle School. One of the goals of this project was to provide a safe way for school kids in the 14th and Alvo Road area to walk or bike to Schoo Middle School and vice versa for elementary kids in Fallbrook to get to Kooser.
Of course runners who live in either neighborhood (or run from the Fallbrook YMCA) can use the connection to find many routes in all of the surrounding neighborhoods. And it provides a direct connection along the 14th Street Trail south to the Superior Street Trail, Roper Park, Oak Lake, Haymarket, and downtown. If you run from any of those areas and you want to do a long run, the new link opens up some nice routes on the north side of town. This is to be highly recommended if you like hills and the big sky!
In and around Wilderness Park
In past years Wilderness Park in southwest Lincoln was crisscrossed with hiking trails popular with trail runners and walkers. An array of bridges spanned the creeks in the area. The opening of the Jamaica North Trail, which skirts the park, brought even more runners and bikers into the area. However the park and the trails in and around it have taken a pounding in recent years. One flood after another devastated the trails, eroded supports for bridges, and left much of the trail infrastructure damaged. And then there was the matter of a few school kids crashing another suspension bridge by jumping up and down on it. In the wake of these disasters, much of the park became inaccessible. Now a combination of factors have come together to enable restoration of the park trail system. Funds have become available, a number of government agencies have come on board, and some unrelated flood control work along the Salt Creek will lead to a maze of detours over the next few months but ultimately will restore access in this park.
Much of this would never have happened without the energetic efforts of the Friends of Wilderness Park. They kept the issue before public officials and raised revenue by the annual Run for the Bridges. Among the projects in the area, a Sanitary Sewer and Water Stream Stability project along Old Cheney Road will reroute some trails along Salt Creek. This work will continue until next winter. Within the park the old timber and cable bridge over Salt Creek just south of the Yankee Hill Road alignment will be dismantled and replaced. This should be finished by the end of the summer. The Wilderness South Bridge, a half mile north of Saltillo Road is also being replaced. A portion of the Jamaica North will be closed for a time from Rokeby Road to the work site. This is supposed to be completed this summer as well. And not far from this area, work is being done on the South Beltway construction.
Despite all of these various projects, some portions of the Wilderness Park trail system will be open at all times. By the start of the winter season the park should be truly open, just in time for the influx coming over the new bridge from the Rock Island Trail.
With luck the virus will ebb and life might return to normal during the summer and autumn. Whether it does nor not, the trails will still be there and better than ever.
Boosalis Trail Reopens
For several months a major flood control project has been undertaken along Highway 2 to improve drainage in the Beal Slough. Increasingly heavy spring rains in recent years coupled with extensive development that added to run-off created a serious problem with flooding. During the project portions of the Boosalis Trail were closed. Finally this trail has reopened with one major improvement. The small bridge over the Beal Slough just west of Ming Auto has been replaced. It had been subject to extensive damage after heavy rains for several years. The new crossing uses large culverts so it should be able to handle even the heaviest floods. Unfortunately Mother Nature decided to test this with a couple of major thunderstorms. The area between 48th and 56th Streets had been graded, but the landscaping has still not taken hold, resulting in a thick covering of mud. But presumably this should be a temporary problem.
A similar problem occurred on the Billy Wolff Trail south under 84th Street and also Old Cheney. The underpasses had been upgraded, but the landscaping was not fully in place when our heavy spring rains hit. The result was a coating of mud, which was a regular problem before the tunnels were improved. But when the landscaping is complete this problem should diminish.
Jamaica North Trail
The Jamaica North Trail seems more popular than ever as hardcore runners try to avoid the crowds on in-town trails. Runners will notice a few changes at the Jamaica North Trailhead at Saltillo Road. Solar lights will be installed in the area. There will also be some construction about a quarter of a mile north of the trailhead to repair a bridge.
Lied Platte River Bridge near South Bend
The Lied Platte River Bridge near South Bend has been closed since it was severely damaged in the March 2019 flood. Earlier this year the process of accessing damage and removing debris was begun. Part of the guardrail will have to be replaced, which is now in process. More seriously some of the ice breaker cones for the piers must be repaired or replaced. It is not yet known how long this will take. Much of the connector trail on the east side of the river was destroyed and will have to be rebuilt. Fortunately it appears that FEMA will provide some funds. The repair work is being undertaken by the Papio Missouri NRD. A reopening date for the trail is still unknown.
See you on the trails!