Archive for Saturday, July 17, 2004

Duo promoting trail linking Wakarusa, Kaw

July 17, 2004


They call it the "River to River Trail."

Two Lawrence men are leading the push for an east-side trail that would connect the Wakarusa and Kansas rivers for hikers and bicyclists.

"The footprints are already there," said Jim McCrary, a poet who has long been active with the East Lawrence Neighborhood Assn. "We think it's something the taxpayers should be educated about."

McCrary and Clark Coan, who has been involved in the Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy, say the proposed five-mile recreational path through East Lawrence would offer varied scenery, glimpses of history, and an economic boost.

The River to River Trail would start at the Wakarusa River south of Lawrence, go through the Baker Wetlands, connect with the existing Haskell Rail-Trail, follow the path of the former Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad line to 11th Street, then through industrial land to the Kansas River.

Coan said a recreational bridge connecting to the Levee Trail on the river's north bank is a possibility.

"This is a visionary concept," he said. "The exact details need to be worked out."

The pair say the trail could boost tourism and business growth. Coan said businesses have popped up along the 225-mile Katy Trail in Missouri and adjoining property values went up 6 percent in Seattle after an old railroad line was converted into a recreational trail.

"It would also improve the quality of life," he said. "For a lot of people, it would be the perfect bike ride. It's level and has a different environment with historic sights."

McCrary pointed to Baker Wetlands, Haskell Indian Nations University and Hobbs Park as historical stops along the proposed path.

Rails-to-trails advocates Jim McCray, left, and Clark Coan envision
a trail for biking and walking that would span from the Wakarusa
River to the Kansas River. Both are pictured on Monday near 23rd
Street and Learnard Avenue, where the Haskell Trail ends.

Rails-to-trails advocates Jim McCray, left, and Clark Coan envision a trail for biking and walking that would span from the Wakarusa River to the Kansas River. Both are pictured on Monday near 23rd Street and Learnard Avenue, where the Haskell Trail ends.

The city has been planning to turn the abandoned railroad line from 23rd Street to 11th Street into a recreational path for some time, but development has been held up by legal issues, city officials said.

David Corliss, assistant city manager, said Lawrence was awaiting documentation from Burlington Northern Santa Fe before plans could move forward.

"It's not a quick process," he said. "The railroad has been helpful, but they have to analyze all the property interest. We called them to ask if there was any way we could help, and they indicated there wasn't. It's just a very complicated legal issue."

Two years ago, Corliss said, the city approached the national Rails to Trails Conservancy in Washington, D.C., to find out if the process could be expedited.

"They told us we were doing everything we could," he said.

A few problems

The trail through the city could be more costly than the Haskell Rail Trail opened in 1991, said Fred DeVictor, the city's Parks and Recreation director. That 1-mile trail cost between $5,000 and $10,000 to develop, he said.

No cost estimates for a River to River Trail have been made by the city or the trail's promoters, but "there are chances it will cost more," DeVictor said.

The only property owner on the western side of the Haskell Rail Trail was Haskell Indian Nations University, whereas the proposed trail would have several adjoining property owners. The Haskell path already had fences, and signs at street intersections were not a problem, according to a city Web site devoted to bicycle trails in Lawrence.

Extending a trail from 11th Street on to the Kansas River also could be problematic. Existing city plans call for the recreational trail to end between Haskell Avenue and Oregon Street, near the end of the existing railbed.

The city's plan

Bill Ahrens, transportation planner in the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department, said the city plan connects all the city bike routes using the existing Kansas River Bridges to the levee in North Lawrence.

"I think it would be a lot more attractive and appealing if it connected to the rest of the city's bike paths, not just ended at the river," he said.

Ahrens said Coan and McCrary's idea of building a new bridge across the Kansas River to connect to trails on the north bank would be "phenomenally expensive."

The Bicycle Advisory Committee, in conjunction with the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department, works to develop bike routes throughout Lawrence. The next meeting of the committee is at 5:15 p.m. Aug. 17 at Fire Station No. 1, 746 Ky.

And he pointed out that the land from 11th Street north to the river is industrial and may not be where people would want to stroll or ride their bikes.

McCrary and Coan said part of their purpose is to return attention to the idea of trail development in Lawrence.

"It's been on the back burner for a while. We're trying to move it onto the front burner," McCrary said. "It's not a priority and we think it should be."

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