Pedestrian bridge grand opening May 5

ELSMORE — April 30 will bring with it the conclusion of a three-year Community Engagement Initiative, an effort in which residents from across Allen County brainstormed to came up with ways to spruce up and otherwise improve their home towns.

The Register has rattled off the list on numerous occasions, from Elsmore getting a new storm siren system installed in 2015 to LaHarpe’s new playground equipment installed early last year.

The “final” feather in the county’s cap will come May 5, with a celebration to mark the grand opening of the King of Trails Bridge, the pedestrian walkway that spans Elm Creek along South Washington Avenue. (The span already is open to the public, and has received plenty of use by walkers, cyclists and others venturing to the Lehigh Portland Trail complex south of Iola.

On top of the various projects that have taken place, the second, equally vital, benefit of the Community Engagement Initiative was that it got Allen County’s residents, well, engaged.

That was the focus of Thursday’s Allen County Together meeting, with representatives from Iola, Laharpe, Moran, Elsmore and Savonburg.

Allen County Together has met each month during the three-year Community Engagement Initiative, allowing representatives of those towns to keep others updated on their myriad projects.

So, even though the three-year project has expired, the monthly meetings will continue, reported Damaris Kunkler, community engagement director for Thrive Allen County.

“I just want to say, ‘thank you,’” Kunkler told the group Thursday. “This was the first time Thrive led a citizen-led grant project. All of the ideas came from you guys, the work came from you guys. A lot of people from across the county were involved with this.”

The Community Engagement Initiative was funded through a $250,000 Kansas Health Foundation grant. Allen County was one of five from the across the state to receive the grant.

Larry Manes, a member of the Moran PRIDE organization, noted Allen County also was the only rural project approved for the KHF grant.

Others focused on specific neighborhoods in Kansas City, Topeka, Wichita and Hutchinson.

“It was such a unique thing,” he said. “I don’t think we realized how unique we were. They were talking about their projects covering 40 square blocks. Ours covered 515 square miles.”

“From my perspective, people in Iola know where Savonburg is,” added Marilyn Logan, “Before, we’d hear, ‘Savonburg? Where is that?’”

“Plus, we’re getting connected,” added fellow Savonburg PRIDE member Melody Burk-holder. “There’s an effort being made to build trails and do all these things that are bigger than just the 100 people living in that part of the county.”

DESPITE the grant ending, several new projects will continue.

Logan showed off signs marking bike trails around Savonburg. The PRIDE Committee will pursue improvements to a blacktop road between Savonburg and Elsmore to encourage more bicycle traffic. Additionally, the committee is developing a new city park on land donated by the Savonburg Bible Church.

LaHarpe is continuing its work to improve the city park — a new and improve sand volleyball court is nearly finished — and soon will open City Hall for those looking to exercise, play basketball or volleyball or do other physical activities.

Moran’s focus, for the time being, is to get the Marmaton Market off the ground. The local cooperative is securing funds to buy the Stub’s Market grocery store.

“Coming together has really brought our communities closer together,” added Barbara Anderson, with the Kansas Department of Commerce. Anderson is a Moran native now living in Iola. Her work with KDOC has kept her in touch frequently with Allen County, particularly through the Community Engagement Initiative. “This grant has really helped with that.”

The Iola Register

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