The city of Burlington and Des Moines County have been working together for more than a decade to complete a hiking/biking trail through the county. While the project continues to move forward, it could be several more years until the entire route is complete.
Once completed, the roughly 20-mile long Flint River Trail will stretch from the Port of Burlington along the Mississippi River to Big Hollow Recreation Area in northern Des Moines County. The project has received more than $5.5 million dollars in state and federal grants along with local contributions.
Zach James of the Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission said the goal is for the trail to be completely off-road. He said it is about 65%-75% complete at this point with work underway within Starr’s Cave Park and Preserve.
James said two different contractors will work on this phase for the next few months, adding a hard-surface trail throughout the park and preserve. He says it is a little more difficult compared to other sections of the trail because of the environmental nature of the park and preserve.
“There are some serious archeological issues that we had to navigate as well as some environmental concerns,” said James. “We were also limited to the existing trail corridor because while the county manages the preserve, it is owned by the [Department of Natural Resources], so we had some limitations on where we could go.”
James said the contractors are also limited in the size of equipment they can use so as to not disturb the preserve. He said once the work within Starr’s Cave Park and Preserve is complete, two sections will remain.
James said the first unfinished section runs from the western edge of the preserve to the intersection of Highway 61 (north of Burlington) and Upper Flint Road. He said one section of the trail will cross under the highway, which the state is preparing to expand from two lanes to four.
“It just didn’t make sense for us to go and build a trail where they are getting ready to construct a new highway,” said James. He said the state will be in charge of the design and engineering work for this portion of the trail, using locally-secured grant money to pay for it, so its completion will depend on the state’s schedule.
James said the second unfinished section stretches from the eastern entrance of Starr’s Cave Park and Preserve to Mill Dam Road, just north of the CNH manufacturing plant. He said this will be the final piece to complete because of tricky terrain and the need to navigate Flint River Creek.
“We’ve got 3-4 routes to consider at this point,” said James, “but I don’t know if any of them are the best route. Some are all on public right-of-way and some are on private property.”
James said this will likely be the final section completed due to the engineering challenges.
“It’s kind of unfortunate that it’s going to be that way, but I think that is the situation we are in. But long term, I think people will be very happy with the final product once the entire trail is complete.”