Participants hit trails for Winterfest ride

Diane Speck, left, of Omaha begins her first Winterfest Bike Ride on Saturday from the Western Historic Trails Center to Caddy's Riverside Grille.

An effort is underway to mark a bicycle route spanning six counties in western Iowa.

The Frontier Iowa Trails Network is working on the designation of the Lewis and Clark Today Route, which will span from Woodbury County in the north, southward to Fremont County.

“If we get enough counties doing something, communicating, we can make this work,” said Brian Leaders, who’s helping spearhead the project.

Leaders works for the National Park Service. His duties include the Rivers and Trails Conservation program, working with a variety of groups in southwest Iowa to create outdoor programs. The Frontier Iowa Trails Network is an organization working to develop a regional, multi-use trail system.

The Lewis and Clark Today Route will be a 209-mile, state-designated route. It will run along the Missouri River, following the famed path of explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on the Corps of Discovery Expedition.

From north to south, the trail will go through Woodbury, Monona, Harrison, Pottawattamie, Mills and Fremont Counties.

Asked what a “today” route is, Leaders said the moniker comes from the potential of a day trip.

“‘Where could I ride my bike today?’” he said.

The first phase of the project will create a “shared route” — meaning the bicycle route will run on highways, county roads and the like. The majority of the trail would be paved. Leaders and others are working to raise money for signs to denote the route.

“The idea is to not over-sign, but to give enough direction to get people from point A to point B,” said Brian Leaders told the board. “We can sign this route in a year.”

Leaders said the signs signifying the roadway as a shared route should promote awareness for vehicle drivers.

“When there are bicycle signs on the road, drivers will see and think, ‘I better look out for cyclists,’” he said.

Leaders noted the roads are open to public use, but with the signs, the trail will “feel some degree safer for cyclists.”

“We hope this reduces the risk on the road and increases the safety factor,” he said.

Leaders said it’s “a huge deal” to establish a route of this length in such a short time.

Installation of the signs is estimated to cost around $200,000. The Iowa Department of Transportation has $230,000 available in grant funding. Leaders said the Frontier Trail System is required to put together a proposal to present to the DOT in its grant application.

That application includes a layout by an engineering firm, cost estimates, community support and more.

With Pottawattamie County acting as the fiscal agent for the effort, County Conservation Executive Director Mark Shoemaker will lead the effort. Shoemaker will distribute funds to the engineering firm, sign maker, installation contractor and others.

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The Transportation Department requires a 20 percent match for the grant funding. During a recent Pottawattamie County Board of Supervisors meeting, Leaders and Shoemaker laid out the plan for the route, noting they’d return in the future with their formal request for dollars.

Shoemaker said organizers wouldn’t know the exact cost of the signs until they finalize the route in the county and determine how many signs are required.

Leaders guessed they’d asked for a county match of around $3,000 to $5,000.

The county board voted unanimously at its May 16 meeting on a resolution to endorse the application to the DOT. Leaders said he wants to get all six counties involved. So far, all six have pledged their involvement.

“I think this will be a great program,” board chairman Justin Schultz said. “I think this is a huge step in the right direction.”

Leaders said the cities of Council Bluffs, Sioux City, Missouri Valley and others have pledged their support as well.

After the route is established, the second phase of the project will be the implementation of a separate bicycle trail off the roadway.

“The hope is the Lewis and Clark Today Route becomes a concrete trail,” Leaders said.

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