A few short years ago, the land surrounding Elks Lake was wild and woolly where no one dared venture.
Today, it’s been tamed somewhat. Trails now wind their way alongside waterways and through the woods, providing hiking and biking enthusiasts myriad opportunities to enjoy nature’s bounty.
Funding through grants coupled with the labor of numerous volunteers have helped make the Lehigh Portland trail system.
Since last fall, Kansas State University graduate students Celia White and Kate Gladson have researched ways to further improve the trails complex as part of a class project.
“It’s been a fun project,” White said Monday, as she and Gladson visited with the Register in a telephone interview. “We’re excited about it.”
As part of their theoretical design study, the students have asked the community for input on a number of potential trail additions, ranging from restroom facilities and picnic benches to campground facilities and supplies.
The effort, done with cooperation through Thrive Allen County and Iola Industries, serves two purposes.
First, it gives White and Gladson real-world experience in learning how community design efforts take shape, as well as the pitfalls that accompany them.
Meanwhile, it also gives Iola Industries, which owns the land, a clearer view of what sort of elements the community would like to see added to the trail.
The survey is open through midnight Friday. (You can fill out the survey by following links through the Thrive Allen County or Iola Register Facebook pages.)
As of late last week, nearly 300 residents had completed the survey.
“One of the thing we were shocked about was the number of responses we got so quickly,” Gladson said. “It was great having so many people willing to fill out the survey.”
The ages range from pre-teen to the elderly, White noted, “a good sampling from all age groups.”
“I thought their might be more support for BMX bicycle use,” White said. However, she noted there were few, if any, surveys completed by anybody under 12 years old. (Yes, the survey is open to children, too.)
WHILE RESULTS are still coming in, a few elements have shown more interest than others.
“People really want restroom facilities along the trail,” White noted. “And there’s been interest in a ‘calisthenics trail,’” with fitness equipment along the route.”
Others expressed support for small shelters along the trail, for users to take breaks.
The surveys will be forwarded to Iola Industries after their project concludes in May.
The results aren’t necessarily marching orders, both students stressed, but could give trail planners a helpful gauge of what local users would support.
PICKING the Lehigh Portland Trail for their class project was an easy decision for White, who for a while lived in the Pacific Northwest and took advantage of its mountain trails. Gladson, meanwhile, grew up a stone’s throw from Truman Lake in northern Missouri.
“Kate and I were intrigued by the lake and the trails,” White said. “We wanted to better understand the dynamic of working with a community.
“What you have going is pretty impressive,” she continued. “We could tell immediately the trails are a big piece of the community. A lot of people utilize them. That’s what attracted us to Iola. There’s already something great happening there. We’re just exploring ideas of what could happen in the future.”
Gladson agreed. “All the pieces are already there. We were excited once we got into the research because this is such a pretty area,” she said.
“Our designs will take advantage of the beautiful views along the edges of the lake, the creek that runs through it and the windy trail,” White added.
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