A federal grant will provide Freeport and Haugen Hummel residents safe access to the Trout Run Trail, which circles the city of Decorah, and will reconstruct a portion of a deteriorating county road.
Local officials were notified Thursday Winneshiek County had been awarded a $1,651,475 Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant for its $2.2 million "Northeast Iowa's Livable Rural Community Project."
The grant will pay to extend an asphalt trail from the village of Freeport to the Trout Run Trail near Walmart and north of Freeport to the Haugen Hummel subdivision for a total of 2.52 miles. The grant also will pay for the reconstruction of 2.5 miles of River Road from Moellers Drive to Drake Hill Road. The trail and roadwork will start next summer and be completed next fall.
"This regional project replaces an aged, limited-use road with a multi-modal system of roads, bridges and trails. It will provide alternative transportation options for small town and rural community members, students and commuters. This project demonstrates strong collaboration among a broad range of participants from the public and private sectors," a news release issued Thursday from U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.
That collaboration included the efforts of the Trails From Freeport (TFF) volunteer group, Winneshiek County employees and elected officials and grant writers.
"This is an exciting time for Winneshiek County. This new trail will give the families, residents and commuters of the Freeport area a safe, non-motorized way to reach Decorah and the Trout Run Trail. As with all of the recreational trails in the county, we hope this trail will help people find new ways of being physically active and enjoy ing the outdoors," said Winneshiek County Conservation Director Barb Schroeder, who was among several people involved in the TIGER grant application.
"The trail shows what the hard work of a committed group of people can accomplish. TFF has been the driving force behind this campaign, and it is in large part to their dedication, as well as the work of (County Engineer) Lee Bjerke, (Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development Director) Lora Friest, (Decorah City Engineer) Lindsay Erdman, Steve Holland, Deneb Woods and Lilly Jensen that this trail is now happening. It's truly inspiring to see citizen-led project culminate in such great success," she said.
Friest and her staff wrote two earlier TIGER grant applications that were unsuccessful; however, pieces of those applications were used in this successful application, according to Schroeder. Friest also contracted Holland to create a cost-benefit analysis that was required for the grant application.
Woods works for RC&D and created the maps for the application, and Jensen, who works for the Conservation Board, assisted Friest with editing and technology assistance. Erdman provided his professional expertise for the parts of the trail located within Decorah city limits.
In addition to their fundraising efforts, Schroeder said TFF encouraged hundreds of Freeport residents to participate in a survey used for the cost-benefit analysis, which showed the economic benefit outweighed the cost of the project.
"The financial, health and other community benefits of planning and constructing a transportation system that encourages all types of transportation on safe roads, bridges and trails can not be understated," Friest said. "I'm proud to work with people who have the wisdom to thoughtfully consider the issues and the research before making decisions."
"Winneshiek County Conservation Board Director Barb Schroeder and County Engineer Lee Bjerke, as well as the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors, had the foresight and the courage to recognize that development of the Freeport Trail is not only important for the safety and health of our citizens but it is also economic justification to secure funding for a much needed road project," Friest said.
She also credited the "tireless dedication" of TFF, which has been "invaluable."
Only Iowa project
The Winneshiek County project was the only one in Iowa awarded TIGER funding. The local $550,000 match for the project will come from in-kind donations from Winneshiek County and $200,000 in donations being raised by Trails From Freeport (TFF), which has been working for three years to extend the Trout Run Trail to Freeport. Currently residents have to ride their bikes or walk on the shoulder along River Road, the county's busiest road outside the city of Decorah, to get to the Trout Run Trail.
TFF Board member Heidi Rockweiler said the group "laid low" while the Trout Run Trail was being completed and kicked its fundraising campaign into high gear about a year ago. TFF has raised $135,000 toward its $200,000 goal.
The trail will serve numerous children in Freeport and Haugen Hummel, she said.
"For them to be able to hop on a trail and safely get into Decorah for Park-Rec, the pool, the library, is really key for them. It's a connection for a whole other community out there. I'm super excited," Rockweiler said.
"This project will provide greater connectivity to smaller, underserved communities in our region. There have been a number of conversations with Hispanic families in Freeport about the transportation barriers for their children to participate in summer 'town' activities. This feels like a great step in a very positive direction," said Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative Project Coordinator Ann Mansfield, who wrote one of the letters of support for the project.
"I don't know of a better grant that has been awarded to the county," Bjerke commented. "Bang for buck, this one came in No. 1. Barb Schroeder and Lora Friest and the TFF people should be given a huge thanks for getting this done. This will improve the community plus fix problems we know we have and have struggled to complete due to (lack of) funding."
"This is the only grant I know of that is not just trail or road, it needs to be trail and road or some other multi modal combination. Instead of pulling money away from each other, the trail and road were using each other to be awarded the money," Bjerke said.
Rockweiler said the Board of Supervisors is allowing Bjerke to work on the project "in-kind," which was essential for its success.
"If they didn't grant that, a huge chunk of money would have had to come out of our pockets. We are glad to have them (the supervisors) as part of the team," she said.
Rockweiler said TFF has two more fundraisers planned for this year.
Sunday, Oct. 6, Decorah's Bright Spot Car Wash owners Mark and Teresa Spilde are donating their time and proceeds from their car wash that day to the trail project. TFF volunteers also will be working at the car wash Oct. 6.
The annual Rubaiyat fundraiser is Monday, Dec. 2. The Decorah restaurant will host a wine tasting, and silent and live auction. Anyone interested in contributing to the auctions should contact Rockweiler at 382-9000, or Rubaiyat owner and TFF Board member Andy Bonnet at 382-9463.
Donations to the trail project can be sent to: Northeast Iowa RC&D, in care of Trails from Freeport, PO Box 125, Decorah, IA 52101.