The $8.3 million hike-bike trail project linking Omaha and Lincoln has stalled, huge downed trees and head-high weeds cause problems
This spring, the Nebraska Legislature raised a few eyebrows when it approved $8.3 million for the completion of an eight-mile crushed-limestone bike-and-hike trail between Omaha and Lincoln.
One lawmaker stated that it used to cost $1 million per mile to create a mile of paved highway.
A recent drive over the most direct route from Lincoln’s Mo-Pac Trail to the Lied Bridge over the Platte River revealed, however, that this is not a happy trail in terms of creating a pathway for walkers and cyclists.
An ancient bridge from the defunct Rock Island Railroad line is located at the northern terminus of one potential trail link route in Cass County. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)
At one point, massive fallen trees and waist-high weeds blocked the path. An ancient bridge from the abandoned Rock Island Railroad line is located nearby. Either a proposed route would have to pass underneath or over the timber bridge, or it would have to be demolished.
Other stretches of 322nd Street were bordered by deep ravines and high dirt banks, extending from where the Mo-Pac East Trail ends in the unincorporated community of Wabash to a trailhead near the Lied Platte River Bridge.
State Senator Rob Clements of Elmwood remarked, “Have you seen $8 million yet?” as he steered a four-wheel-drive pickup over and under fallen tree limbs on a part of the highway.
At the request of a reporter, Clements led a tour of 322nd Street, a gravel rural lane interrupted by two miles of little maintained dirt road, which would be the most direct path to connect Lincoln and Omaha leisure trails.
Link is a lifelong ambition
The connection would fulfill the long-held desire of trail aficionados for a continuous trail linking the state’s main cities and add another finished piece to the Great American Rail Track, a cross-country cycling trail.
Marie Gregoire of Murdock, a member of the Mo-Pac Alliance, a group of Cass County citizens and trail aficionados pushing the route, stated, “We’re finally going to get it done.”
Dr. Matt Rechmeyer of Lincoln and his brother Drew of Omaha ride their bicycles along Nebraska Highway 1 near Murdock, one of the alternate routes utilized by bikers due to the lack of a connection between Omaha and Lincoln’s trails. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)
On the first and third Thursdays of each month, this organization arranges a “Pie Ride” in Elmwood, which attracts 100 bikers or walkers who feast on pizza pie at area restaurants or handmade pies produced by local church and community groups.
“Pie equals joy. “People will come out for pie,” stated Governor Gregoire.
She noted that she and her husband had just returned from a trip in Minnesota, during which they rode E-bikes on the state’s biking paths, allowing even senior citizens and novice riders to go 30 to 40 miles each day. She stated that tourists are drawn to trails.
Gregoire stated, “On a bike trail, you can observe things at such a slow pace.” “There is no traffic approaching from behind or in front of you.”
Clements is an improbable proponent of completing the trail’s final leg.
Senator fought against prior proposal
Clements, a banker whose family settled in Cass County 154 years ago, is one of the most conservative legislators. He had rejected earlier efforts to construct a trail connection because the proposed path would have crossed private property and necessitated the use of eminent domain.
This time, however, he voted in favor of allocating cash from the state’s $1.04 billion allotment from President Biden’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARPA), believing that the state had sufficient funding to do so.
“It was always going to be built,” Clements remarked, reasoning that trail supporters would eventually gather the necessary funds.
In addition, he stated that the Cass County Board signed a statement in January supporting the completion of the trail link if the public right-of-way along county highways was utilized, so preventing the loss of any agricultural fields or front yards.
The trail animates the town
700 inhabitants of Elmwood, according to him, have warmed to the notion of a recreational route over time.
Since the path from Lincoln was built 22 years ago, it has not caused any difficulties, like as vandalism, and it has brought some activity to the city, including the Pie Rides and an annual “market-to-market” relay run from Lincoln’s Haymarket to Omaha’s Old Market.
On the day of Clements’ visit, a guy was seen strolling his dog in a shady section of Elmwood’s eastern route.
At this trailhead in the unincorporated community of Wabash, just north of Elmwood, the Mo-Pac East Trail from Lincoln terminates. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)
The trail ended in Wabash, a few miles south of Elmwood, when a firm that mines limestone from the hills around Weeping Water purchased the right of way to the east, according to Clements.
Clements explained that the lack of a train bed on which to create this stretch of the Mo Pac route, unlike the majority of recreational trails that follow old rail lines, makes it more expensive to construct.
Paul Zillig, general manager of the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District, stated that, on average, it costs approximately $1 million per mile to construct a recreational trail from scratch. He added that there are additional expenses if bridges, considerable clearing, or grading are required.
A trip down 322nd Street reveals that additional work will be necessary.
High dirt walls, deep ravines
The first few miles north of Wabash are typical country roads bordered by corn and bean fields. However, the road is soon paralleled by a deep ravine, followed by a mile of minimal maintenance road consisting of two narrow tracks bordered by steep banks dug far into the prairie.
What do you intend to do with it? Clements inquired about the elevated banks.
The senator stated that this route has the benefit of passing three houses within the first couple of miles. Clements noted that he has heard from a homeowner who is concerned that her dogs would chase passing bikers and a farmer who wants stop or yield signs at the entrances of his fields to prevent accidents.
Farmers are concerned about liability, he said.
“There is no outlet”
Eventually, the walkway crosses the east-west Church Road, so named because a number of churches were located alongside the asphalt road. A sign on a barricade reads “Road Closed to Through Traffic” along with “No Outlet.”
The senator has already changed his pickup truck into four-wheel drive, and the additional traction is necessary as he navigates down the rutted dirt road, dodging fallen branches and tall weeds.
Clements commented as the truck bounced over the ruts, “You’re fortunate it’s been dry.”
Two enormous fallen trees prevent access to a little maintenance road on 322nd Street in northern Cass County, which is the most direct route connecting bike-hike routes between Lincoln and Omaha. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)
Approximately a half-mile in, two enormous downed trees obstruct the road. The “Road Closed” signs, which are disguised by tall nettles, state the obvious.
Unfazed, the senator manages to turn around and drive around the portion to demonstrate what is on the other side of the “Road Closed” sign: a historic railroad bridge, part of the abandoned Lincoln-to-Omaha Rock Island Railroad line. The Lied Bridge is located on the former Rock Island railroad line.
When Clements was a child, his parents would drive beneath the old railroad bridge, announcing, “That’s where the troll dwells,” and then tell him the Norwegian folk tale about the Three Billy Goats Gruff, who had to outwit the troll in order to pass.
Long tradition in Cass County
The senator’s family history in this region is far more extensive. His grandfather established the “Grandpa’s Woods Golf Course” south of Elmwood, and the renowned author Bess Streeter Aldrich formerly co-owned his family’s bank in town. He was raised in the home of the Aldrich family, which is now the Bess Streeter Aldrich Museum.
Just downstream from South Bend, the Lied Platte River Bridge crosses the Platte River. A proposed pathway would connect it to a hike-bike trail in Lincoln, creating a continuous path from Omaha to the state capital. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)
North of the closed road and old bridge, 322nd Street curves along Fountain Brook, a tiny creek, to the east. Clements eventually reaches a parking lot made of limestone rock, which serves as the trailhead for the Lied Platte River Bridge, which leads to trails in Sarpy County.
Clements stated that he is not an engineer and did not know if $8.3 million was too much to spend on a hike-bike track, but that there are numerous physical challenges to constructing such a pathway in his area.
Zillig, of the NRD, stated that no preferred path for the trail link has been chosen yet, but that his organization has $50,000 set aside for an engineering assessment of the potential options.
As you can see, there are obstacles out there, he said.
Other routes destroyed
Over the years, various routes have been proposed and rejected, in part because of opposition to condemning private property for a recreational trail.
On one route, the trail link veered west before following Nebraska Highway 1 via the community of Murdock. Currently, a defined bike route brings bikers from the end of the Mo-Pac East Trail to east from Wabash and then north up a portion of 334th Street that is paved.
Zillig stated that the final route will be determined in collaboration with the Cass County Board and the Mo-Pac Alliance in order to secure local agreement for the previously controversial project.
During Clements’ tour, he saw Dr. Matt Rechmeyer of Lincoln and Drew Rechmeyer of Bellevue, siblings who had met halfway between the two cities for a 35-mile bike ride on a scorching July afternoon.
These two stated that they routinely ride the roads in Cass County for the scenery and exercise, and that the heat did not affect them.
Do they desire a bike path between Omaha and Lincoln?
Matt Rechmeyer responded, “We’d be all over that.”
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