City Council gets Iola rail history lesson

The city's new walking trail extension that connects Iola High School tennis courts to the new Iola Elementary School doesn't actually follow "The MoPac Trail," as it has been commonly referenced. Local historians point out it's actually the Katy Trail, a different rail corridor.



November 29, 2022 - 1:20 PM

Iola Mayor Steve French, from left, City Councilman Mark Peters and Assistant City Administrator Corey Schinstock look over an early map of Iola Monday showing where the Missouri Pacific and Katy Railroads passed through the east part of town in Iola’s early years. Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

A few historians have a bone to pick with the City of Iola — in particular, the city’s newest trail extension that connects the Iola High School tennis courts to Iola Elementary School and parts east.

No, they’re not concerned with the roughly eight-block stretch of walkway, the pace of the ongoing crosswalk installations, or even the planned pedestrian bridge north of the school.

Rather, they note the new trail does not officially follow the old Missouri Pacific rail corridor, and thus should not be considered “The MoPac Trail.”

Mayor Steve French brought up the topic at Monday’s City Council meeting, noting he’d been approached by folks “quite adamant” about properly reflecting Iola’s history.

The route does begin at what was at one point the MoPac corridor near IHS. But continuing to follow the MoPac would have meant dipping farther south as it continued eastward.

In reality, the extension follows a second rail corridor, the old Missouri, Kansas Texas Railroad route that operated briefly in Iola in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

French showed a copy of one of Iola’s original plats, courtesy of Iolan Jim Smith, to indicate the route each railroad followed.

This copy of an early Iola plat map shows where the Missouri Pacific and Missouri, Kansas and Texas (Katy) Railroads passed through the eastern part of town in the late 19th century.Photo by Richard Luken

RAILROADS played a large role in Iola’s early years, with as many as four lines operating at one point or another.

The MoPac, and later the MKT, or Katy, were the east-west rail lines, ferrying cargo to Iola’s bustling industries that filled the east part of town during the gas boom days.

Alas, many of those industries quickly went belly-up after natural gas deposits were depleted. By the latter half of the 20th century, only the old Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad remained, and it closed up shop by 1980. An electric railroad carrying passengers daily from Iola to LaHarpe also ceased operation once business dwindled and a tornado destroyed the train depot.

In reality, the nomenclature won’t matter a whit to the city, Assistant City Administrator Corey Schinstock noted. There is no plan for any signage along the new trail, aside from crosswalk signs or other safety postings for motorists.

 In fact, the city has no signage denoting the MoPac Trail portion, either.

Regardless, the historians’ objection is noted, French replied. “History is very important to individuals,” he said.

As an aside, Schinstock said the crosswalk work has begun in earnest this month, and should be done shortly.

Footings for the pedestrian bridge should be poured soon, with the span installed perhaps as early as February.

IN AN otherwise short meeting, Council members unanimously approved provisions of a new contract with Thrive Allen County for economic development services.

Iola boosted its contract to the tune of $50,000 annually, or roughly the equivalent of 1.5 mills.

City Administrator Matt Rehder previously has noted that Iola’s economic development investment levels pale in comparison to other communities across southeast Kansas.

Other partners with Thrive also are bumping up their investments. Humboldt city officials increased their economic development contract from $10,000 to $17,000 — also equivalent to about 1.5 mills — while Allen County bumped up its contribution from $20,000 to $30,000. Iola Industries will continue to pay Thrive $20,000 annually for the service.

Council members previously set their 2023 budget in anticipation of the higher funding level.

SPEAKING of the budget, the Council scheduled a Dec. 11 budget hearing to tackle year-end budget amendments for the city’s gas, electric, stores, sales tax, water and special highway funds, nearly all of which are tied to higher costs associated with energy and supplies. 

“It’s been an interesting year with gas prices and fuel prices, and not knowing where we’re going,” City Clerk Roxanne Hutton said. “We tried to take a stab in the dark.” 

The largest adjustment hikes for the gas and electric funds are largely recouped from higher sales to customers, Hutton noted, but still required the amendments to reflect the increased budget authority.

Some of the differences are staggering. 

The Council, in the summer of 2021, budgeted $2.8 million for natural gas sales in 2022. By year’s end, that figure could be $5.9 million. Electricity sales, projected originally at about $9.6 million are now expected to reach $11.6 million. Water sales should be about $200,000 over projections, from $306,000 to $506,000.

The city also must add about $200,000 in budget authority to its stores budget and sales tax fund, as well as put $23,900 into its special highway fund.

“If we don’t hit these limits,  we won’t spend this money,” Hutton said. “We just need the power to do so.”

COUNCIL members also approved cereal malt beverage licenses for 2023 for on-premises consumption at El Jimador, Pizza Hut, Denny’s Sports Center and China Palace. Licenses for off-premises consumption — thus, requiring those CMB containers to remain closed — were approved for Walmart, Casey’s General Store, G&W Foods, Dollar General and the three Pump ’N Pete’s franchises in town.

Hutton noted other businesses that sell alcohol are licensed by the state.

OTHER items:

— Councilwoman Joelle Shallah shared compliments the city received for its improvements to the Oak Street water tower, including a fresh coat of new paint and several interior improvements. Rehder echoed Shallah’s comments, calling it a “badly needed improvement to the city’s water infrastructure.”

— The Council approved a request by the Liberty Homeschool Alliance to charge admission and sell concessions at sporting events at the Recreation Community Building, allowing the group to pay for officials and cover other expenses.


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