Grants help Osawatomie trail extension get on track

Doug Carder / staff photo

Trent McCown, park manager for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, points out a possible way to establish a permanent crossing to traverse this drainage obstacle on the western fringe of Osawatomie with Osawatomie Trails Task Force members Gary French, Mark Fuchs, George Pretz and Doug Walker last December. The Osawatomie City Council has charged the task force with developing a plan to establish a trailhead at the Karl E. Cole Sports Complex and building trail to connect with the Flint Hills Nature Trail State Park west of the community. The task force recently obtained $87,166 in grant money to begin the process.

OSAWATOMIE — A project to establish the eastern trailhead of the Flint Hills Nature Trail at the Karl E. Cole Sports Complex in Osawatomie is moving forward now that two grants totaling $87,166 have been obtained and a third seems promising.

The City Council on Thursday, May 9, authorized the Osawatomie Trails Task Force to spend up to $87,000 in grant money to begin the process of extending the trail to the sports complex.

The Flint Hills Nature Trail now ends about 300 feet west of USD 367 property behind Trojan Elementary School, with no immediate public access. The closest public access point is about one mile west of town where it crosses John Brown Highway.

The task force recently secured grants from the Hawkins and Baehr foundations, as well as some private donations. The city also has pledged $25,000 toward the project, but has yet to spend those funds.

The total project cost is estimated at $182,166. The task force reports that through a combination of grant money, private donations and the city’s pledged contribution it has total cash funds of $129,166.

City Council member Dan Macek expressed reservations about moving forward until the entire project is funded.

Doug Walker, president of Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy, assured Macek and other council members the task force would raise the necessary funds to complete the project. Kanza is the volunteer rail-trail organization building the trail from Osawatomie to Herington, Kan.

The first phase of the project, construction of the Osawatomie extension that ends at the west parking lot of the sports complex, is estimated at $118,750.90 — accounting for the bulk of the project’s total cost.

“We’re confident we can get the trail open with the amount of money we have,” Walker said of the first phase. “That’s not adding any amenities (at the sports complex).”

The next phase of the project would expand the west parking lot of the sports complex to accommodate horse trailers and regular vehicles to provide a convenient access point for residents and visitors, according to the task force. The estimated cost of the increased parking lot is $23,620.

If funds are available, proposed amenities include bike racks, an informational kiosk, seating, bicycle repair station and horse hitching rails, according to the task force.

The task force should find out after June 1 if it secured a $50,000 attractions grant from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, Walker said.

The task force needed the council’s approval to spend up to $87,000 in grant funds because it does not have spending authority. The money the task force obtains is going into a special fund with the city, and all the funds it spends will come out of that fund.

“Basically, (the city) is authorizing us to spend the money we’ve already raised,” said Walker, who is also an Osawatomie resident. “We will not spend more than we have.”

Also Thursday, the council authorized the purchase of the “Ross” property for about $17,000, which included closing costs and other fees. The city had to purchase this sliver of private property to connect the trail sections already owned by the school district and city. Additionally, Kanza is deeding railbanked property to the state for extension of the Flint Hills Trail State Park.

Supporters have said having a state park in Osawatomie’s back yard not only improves quality of life through the use of the trail but also provides some economic opportunities through increased tourism.

Kanza and other supporters are using Osawatomie-based Halls Bobcat Service for construction of the Osawatomie extension. The task force’s plans were submitted with their grant applications to the Hawkns and Baehr foundations to obtain those grants.

City Manager Don Cawby told the council he believed the estimated costs for the project are “in the ballpark” based on his professional experience. When Cawby was with the city of Osage City, for example, he said in a previous interview the city spent $110,000 to get $1 million for a trail project.

Jeff Walmann, chairman of the task force formed by the city in October 2018, said in a recent interview he was pleased with the funds obtained thus far.

“We’re pretty excited about the progress we’ve been able to make in a short amount of time,” Walmann said. “These grants are amazing. The Hawkins were incredible, and they would be pleased we’re doing this.”

The 119-mile Flint Hills trail is the seventh longest rail-trail in the United States, according to Kanza. The trail is on Union Pacific/Missouri Pacific right-of-way that was railbanked in 1996 for the specific purpose of using the corridor as a rail-trail.

News Editor Doug Carder can be reached at (913) 294-2311 or doug.carder@miconews.com.

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