Rail trail designated a state park

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May 25, 2010 - 12:00 AM

The Prairie Spirit Trail is Kansas’ 25th state park. The designation will increase its visibility significiantly to potential users.
“That’s the biggest advantage,” said Trent McCown, trail manager. “The trail always has been under the Parks Division (of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks), the same as designated state parks. Now, it will be advertised much more by the Kansas Department of Transportation.”
The park will be noted on KDOT maps and in brochures and other state publications, where it wasn’t before, and eventually more signage along highways will alert passersby about the trail.
Funding won’t increase, but it will flow from KDWP more quickly.
“It will be cleaner and more efficient,” McCown said. “We won’t have the paper trail to acquire funds that we’ve had in the past,” rather its funding will be a part of KDWP’s annual budget.
Prairie Spirit Trail stretches from Iola to Ottawa along the old Santa Fe Railroad right of way, built in the 1860s and the first major north-south rail line in Kansas.
The trail is hard-packed limestone screenings in rural areas and covers 51 miles, with users having opportunities to see a variety of eastern Kansas prairie flora and fauna. In and near cities along the route, such as in Iola, the trail’s surface is asphalt.
In the countryside, the trail passes over several bridges spanning creeks, ponds and the Marais Des Cygne River.
Average width is eight feet and grades are moderate, an advantage for casual walkers and hikers. The trail also is open to bicycles.
The trail is designed for non-motorized transportation, but motorized wheelchairs are permitted.
Self-pay permits are $3.50 a day. Annual permits are $12.15. The permits can be purchased at self-pay stations along the trails in Iola, Welda, Garnett, Richmond, Princeton and Ottawa; at any retail location where Kansas hunting, fishing and state park permits are sold; online at www.wildlifelicense.com/ks or by calling 1-800-918-2877.
Those 15 and younger may use the trails for free.
The trailhead at Iola is in Cofachique Park, west across State Street from the National Guard armory. Parking is available there for out-of-town users.

THE CITY  of Iola is in the process of acquiring railroad right of way so that the trail may be extended through town to Riverside Park.
McCown said KDWP had no role or financial stake in the proposed extension through Iola.
“We’d like to see it happen, but we have no funding available to help the city at this time,” he said.
Having the trail continue south to Riverside Park would fit well with efforts of Thrive Allen County and Vision Iola to increase opportunities for outdoor activities and exercise in Iola. It also would be a good fit for users in access to the park, where there are rest rooms, playground equipment, the swimming pool and picnic areas.

THE TRAIL began 14 years ago as a 17-mile from Richmond to Welda. A second expansion in 1998 took it another 16 miles north to Ottawa. Then in June 2008, phase III to the south officially opened in Iola.
The communities of Garnett and Ottawa celebrate the trail with Friends of the  Prairie Spirit Trail organizations. Members sponsor charity bike rides that benefit the trail as well as organizations that partner with an endeavor. In Ottawa, for example, a June 12 “Catch the Spirit” bike ride sponsored by the Ottawa Recreation Commission will benefit the Franklin County Cancer Society and the rail trail.
Last weekend, a “Fish Trot for Kids” in Garnett had participants “trot” along the trail from Garnett’s North Lake Park to its country club golf course for a fishing derby for kids.
Annual membership to be a rail trail friend is $10. The money goes toward purchasing bike racks, benches, picnic tables, trash containers, birdhouses and landscape plantings along the trail and at trailheads. The funds also provided two picnic tables for phase III projects. One table was placed at the rest stop in Colony; the other at the rest stop in Carlyle.
Garnett’s Chamber of Commerce office in the old Santa Fe Depot serves as the headquarters for the Prairie Spirit Trail and is where trail manager McCown has his office. To contact McCown call 785-448-6767.

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