Concept plan for 5K, 10K trails at Rock Chalk Park emerges

Rock Chalk Park may end up being more than a top destination for youth basketball, volleyball and a host of Kansas University sporting events, if a city commissioner’s plans become reality.

The sports complex and the area surrounding it may become the place where the community goes to run, walk, jog and participate in a host of fun runs and other events that traditionally have been held downtown.

Lawrence City Commissioner Bob Schumm is leading a committee that is recommending a 10 kilometer concrete trail be built on the Rock Chalk Park property and the surrounding area in northwest Lawrence.

“It really could be quite extraordinary,” Schumm said.

Schumm has led a seven-member committee that has met several times at the site — which is near Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway . The group is forwarding recommendations on to the project’s architects for further refinement. The ideas include:

• A 5 kilometer, 10-foot wide concrete path that would start and end near the main parking lot for the city’s Rock Chalk Park recreation center. The trail would travel along a creek just north of the property and go through areas of timber and open prairie. It also would feature a 100 foot drop in elevation in a quarter mile stretch that would add interest for runners and walkers, Schumm said.

• An additional 5 kilometer trail that would connect to the one on the Rock Chalk Park property. That trail would go north and east from the Rock Chalk Park site along an existing city sewer easement. It would connect with Queens Road, go west along county road N 1750, then connect with the existing South Lawrence Trafficway hike and bike path, which leads back to the Rock Chalk Park property.

• A one- to two-acre section of largely undisturbed prairie land that would be set aside as a conservation effort to ensure future generations will have access to native Kansas prairie.

• Amenities such as two restrooms along the trail route and benches about every 1,000 feet.

• A picnic area with an eight- to 10-foot fire ring that could be used by organizers of fall or winter events who want to provide a warming area for participants or spectators.

Schumm said the plan was designed with events in mind. He said serious cross country meets are not likely to be held at the complex, but he believes it could be ideal for the large number of fun runs and other such events that nonprofit organizations often host downtown.

“I absolutely think we should try to encourage them to have those type of events out there,” Schumm said.

Schumm, a downtown restaurant owner, said the variety of running events occurring in or near downtown is creating extra costs for the city’s Police Department, which often has to provide traffic control for the events. He’s not sure the events are generating enough new economic activity in downtown to offset the costs.

“Generally, the running participant is not the person that goes shopping right of way after they finish running,” Schumm said. “Now, if they come to town for a run and spend the night, I think they are going to make their way to downtown regardless of where the race is held.”

When a trail system could be in place is an open question. The city has approximately $350,000 for trails in the project’s infrastructure budget, Schumm said. He said that would not be enough to construct the system envisioned by the committee. For example, the city is estimating it will cost about $265,000 to do just a six-block extension of the Burroughs Creek Rail Trail in East Lawrence.

Schumm stopped short of saying he would call for the city to spend more dollars on the project. Instead, he said he wanted to see what could be accomplished with the money already budgeted, and also be open to partnerships that could help fund the project. The Rock Chalk Park complex is a joint venture between the city, Kansas University and a private development group headed by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel.

Members of the committee, which was selected by Schumm, said they hope a project can come together. Bob Etzel, who previously was a park commissioner in St. Louis, said the property offers a longterm opportunity for the residents to experience the outdoors.

“Some people may say this is a running trail, but to me it is much larger than that,” Etzel said. “The most exciting thing about this project is that is preserving an important piece of landscape for the public. The property out there is a great example of what northeast Kansas has to offer.