Appreciating the trails

Officials with the city and county are seeking to develop an increased appreciation and awareness of the pathways and routes that comprise the Fort Dodge Trail System by organizing the Celebration of Trails event set for Friday at the former Sunkissed Meadows golf course along the Des Moines River.

The value of multipurpose recreational trails in a community is much more than the scenic walkway they offer, said Dawn Larson, economic development specialist with the Fort Dodge business affairs and community development office.

“Quality of life amenities are becoming very important factors in the recruitment of businesses,” she said. “In my research, everywhere I looked quality of life factors are becoming more and more important, especially cultural and recreational aspects.”

Prospective businesses and companies need to fill their positions, she said. To do that, an area where they chose to locate their operations must appeal to potential employees. Recreational trails do that by offering a way for people to connect with others, as well as to places and to nature itself. Trails also encourage people to get out and explore their community.

The appeal of being outdoors and active in some way seems to be an innate human desire, said Karen Hansen, naturalist with Webster County Conservation.

“We see a lot of need for recreational and relaxing activities,” she said. “Just getting people outside to do general activities increases quality of life. It’s bigger that we realize, our need to recreate, relax and destress.”

The Fort Dodge trails system currently connects six parks, three schools, and the riverfront. With its multiple legs and sections, it totals 23 miles and is accessible from various points marked with wayfinding signs, kiosks and benches. A map of the trails is available for downloading from the city website under the parks and recreation tab at www.fortdodgeiowa.org.

Completion of connectors and repaving areas are all that are left in this first phase of establishing the trails system, said Chad Schaeffer, city engineer. It’s anticipated those projects will be undertaken this fall with all the work finished by the project’s final deadline of June 30, 2015. As for future additions and sections, nothing has been officially proposed though the ideas are flowing.

“My thought is we’ve done a lot on the north side of town,” Schaeffer said. “I would like to see us do more on the south side, around Olseon Park and along the Des Moines River.”

The Trails Advisory Board developed the master plan for the Fort Dodge Trail System in 2007 with the goal of building a comprehensive, interconnecting system which could be used for biking, walking, running and even cross-country skiing in the winter. The project received a Vision Iowa grant for $6.7 million to be spent over three years. In addition, federal dollars were appropriated at least $400,000 was raised in private funds.

A ribbon cutting for the trail system will kick-off the activities planned for he Celebration of Trails event at 6:15 p.m. followed by a family bike ride and scavenger hunt that will begin at 6:30 p.m. The route that will lead to Loomis Park and back, a trip of about five miles.

During the ride, participants are encouraged to “scavenge” by taking pictures of listed items along the trail with the cameras on their cell phones.

Additionally, prizes will be awarded for the best decorated bikes.

Also starting at 6:30 p.m. will be the Pedal Power Poker Ride, a longer distance ride. Participants decide whether they want to follow a 20- or 27-mile route, selecting either Rogers Sports Complex or Kennedy Park.

Playing cards are then given out at designated stops along the way with a prize for the best poker hand at the end of the event.

The final event of the evening will be the Firefly 5K, a lighted fun run and walk. Beginning at 8:30 p.m., the three mile route will be lit with luminaries and music will be played.

Those walking and running are asked to wear glowing materials or reflective clothing. Prizes will be awarded to the brightest individuals and even the brightest stroller.

Volunteers and area sponsorships have made it possible for the activities to be free, although food will be available for purchase from the Noon Lions.