A final public meeting was held at Valentine on December 16th to get input on a new master plan for the Cowboy Recreation and Recreation Trail. It was a cold night with the local community recovering from an eight-inch snow fall the previous day.
Officials asked for public input in association with comments and a slide presentation. One of the attendees was Al Brock, of the Valentine Recreational Trails Coalition.
Some options suggested by the public at the meeting were:
- Indicate local activities at communities along the trail that might be of interest to trail users and help with interactions among people with a variety of interests; examples at Valentine include the livestock market, county fair and rodeo activities
- Convey the availability of community resources beneficial to trail users, including wireless at libraries, shower facilities as well as the usual place to eat and sleep
- Create pollinator habitat at Valentine to benefit the Monarch butterfly
- Evaluate small, isolated prairie habitat parcels along the trail as opportunities for public access by trail users that want to stop and enjoy the local nature
- Indicate local businesses in towns along the trail that provide basic services for cyclists
- Plan for options to fund the opening of western portions of the trail, perhaps including donations to finance particular sections, with, perhaps, indicated recognition
- Pursue funding options that can help improve resource values along the trail
Proposed new management scenarios indicated for the trail by public officials include:
- Alternatives for trail operation and maintenance
- Maintenance and creation of pollinator habitat
- Options for haying practices; letters have been sent to current hay cutters to inform them that haying may not occur in 2016 while options are evaluated, according to officials
- Conservation and replanting of native prairie
- Clearing of unwanted woody vegetation from the trail right-of-way, especially invasive cedar trees
Indicated concerns regarding the trail, including activities which degrade the trail surface and perspectives of people opposed to the trail and its uses.
Two events to occur in the summer of 2016 associated with the trail corridor include: 1) an “ultra-marathon” with solo and team participants, which is expected to include visitors from other U.S. states, and 2): Valentine being a host community for the Bicycle Ride Across Nebraska, where riders will primarily ride along the highway, but will also have the option to ride along the Cowboy Trail.
Local options for recreational trail enhancement at Valentine mentioned, were connectors from the trail to the Valentine High School, and creating a highway-side trail to Fort Niobrara NWR.
The new plan will consider options for opening the western ca. 120 miles of the trail, westward from Valentine to its western terminus. A primary concern indicated is the development cost which is currently about $36,000 per mile, Nelson said.
The last master plan for the trail that was purchased in 1994, was prepared in 1995.
The 321 mile trail across northern Nebraska, is open to the public from Norfolk to Valentine. There are also two segments of the western portion of the trail available for public use at Gordon and Rushville.
Usage figures for 2009, convey there were 17,778 visits for the open section of the trail during June to September, according to the meeting presentation. This would equate to an approximate economic impact of $5.3 million. There would also be subsequent maintenance costs.
Current costs for trail operation and management are about $150,000, according to Nebraska Game and Parks Commission figures. It recently cost $7 million to repair the trail and bridges due to the 2010 historic flooding along the Elkhorn river.
Public officials present at Valentine included the trail coordinator, Kirk Nelson of the NGPC, along with other agency personnel. Alex Duryea represented the Nebraska Tourism Commission.
Other meetings along the trail included one delayed by the snow storm for a day at Rushville. Public comments were to be accepted until December 31st. A draft of the plan will be available for review in the spring of 2016.