Riders christen FD trails

Children on bicycles decorated with streamers and balloons joined adults on 10-speed bikes Friday evening for a ride on parts of the Fort Dodge trail system.

For some, like Naomi Zaharia, of Fort Dodge, the event was another chance to have fun outside. She celebrated her fourth birthday by going on the ride with her mother, Marie Zaharia.

For many of the adults, and the community at large, the ride commemorated a rapid expansion of the city’s trail network that took place since 2010 with the aid of federal, state, county and city money along with private donations.

The trail network now consists of 23 miles. It is now possible for someone to walk, run or ride a bike from the main campus of Iowa Central Community College on the city’s west side to John F. Kennedy Memorial Park north of Fort Dodge without getting off a trail.

Randy Kuhlman, a member of the local Trails Advisory Board, called the network “a fantastic trail system that’s still a work in progress.”

Kuhlman and other officials spoke during a trails celebration held at the former Sunkissed Meadows Golf Course along the Des Moines River. The Ambassadors from the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance cut a green ribbon to give the expanded trail system a ceremonial debut.

Following the ribbon-cutting, bicyclists could participate in the Family Bike Ride or the Pedal Power Poker Ride. Later in the evening, runners could hit the trails for the Firefly 5K.

The Fort Dodge Noon Lions grilled burgers and served other food at the event. Members of the Noon Sertoma Club coordinated the celebration.

Kuhlman said the Trails Advisory Board was organized in 2007. Its goal, he said, was to develop a comprehensive trail plan and then seek grants to help pay for making it a reality.

In 2010, the city was awarded a $1.2 million Vision Iowa grant from the state government for trails. To secure the grant, the advisory board needed to come up with $400,000 in matching funds. Kuhlman said that $400,000 was raised in three months.

“It was truly a great public-private partnership,” he said. “We couldn’t have done it without the support of the city, the county, local businesses that contributed and many, many citizens who are really excited about the idea of Fort Dodge and Webster County having a great trail system.”

Webster County Supervisor Clark Fletcher also reflected on the importance of collaboration in completing the trail expansion.

“I think that the recognition really needs to go not only to all the volunteers who put this together, but to all the people here who support these types of things and make these types of things possible,” Fletcher said.

Tenacity is also key to a project like the trails expansion, according to Dennis Plautz, the chief executive officer of the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance

“You have to stick with things,” he said.

Features like Brushy Creek State Recreation Area, the Gypsum City Off-Highway Vehicle Park and the ag industrial park called Iowa’s Crossroads of Global Innovation began as ideas 20 to 25 years ago, he said.

City Councilman Dave Flattery said having quality of life features like trails is necessary to grow the local economy.

“It’s a big part of economic development,” Flattery said. “We all know that recruiting industry and labor is huge now – its global competition. So we have to have these type of amenities that establish economic development.”

Nick Salmon, a member of the Trails Advisory Board and the Dodger Cyclists, said bicyclists are “really excited about the growth.”

Stephanie Houk Sheetz, the former senior city planner for Fort Dodge, worked on the trail project and participated in Friday evening’s event. She predicted that the trail system will continue to grow.

“This is not the end,” she said.