LE MARS, Iowa | As residents continue to debate the proposed PlyWood Trail, organizers have identified three potential routes for the recreational trail stretching from Le Mars to Sioux City.
An engineering firm, McClure Engineering, unveiled the routes at community meetings last week in Merrill and Hinton. Both dissenting and supportive comments were aired by residents, and another set of meetings could come in January, as efforts to finalize a route continues.
PlyWood Trail Committee member Ryan Meyer said the meetings were designed to keep residents apprised of the trail, which would link Le Mars and Sioux City, the Woodbury County seat. The name is a contraction of the two counties.
Dozens of people attended a prior round of meetings in August.
The meetings this week were the first time the three potential routes were presented publicly. Meyer said many bicyclists and others really want the trail, while other people, including some of 30 landowners who have property where the trail may go, are more skeptical.
"We owe it to continually address their concerns as they arise. It was reiterated in each meeting that land cannot be forcibly condemned for trail usage," Meyer said.
Meyer explained if the trail was to cross private land, it would have to be voluntarily acquired in one of three ways, with the owner either donating it, selling or granting an easement for it.
The east alignment, also called the River Route, would run along the Floyd River and would be the most picturesque in terms of observing nature.
The Central Route is the most direct route and shortest, routing essentially along U.S. Highway 75. It also would have the least impact on landowners, as most of the property needed could be obtained in rights-of-way from the cities and the Iowa Department of Transportation.
"That goes right through all four communities," Meyer said.
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The West Route would not run along Highway 75 in the middle miles. It would veer a few miles west, south and then back east along existing county roads from Merrill to Hinton. A trail would be placed along each of those three county road sections.
If chosen, the River Route would not pass directly through Merrill and would require an additional 2.5 miles of trail construction, on top of the previously projected 16 miles of the most central route along Highway 75.
"It is the most scenic, it is the farthest from the highway, off the beaten path," Meyer said.
The estimated cost for the trail has been $10 million, or perhaps more if the longer the river or west routes are used.
Jeff Schug of McClure Engineering said fleshing out a more detailed estimate is part of the next phase in finalizing the route choice. A figure often used for other trails is up to $1 million per mile.
Neal Adler, executive director of the Le Mars Area Chamber of Commerce, noted trail organizers have continually said the funding will come in two ways -- fundraising donations and state and federal trail grants. Adler said Plymouth County residents are primed to donate considerably to the trail.
"The faster the funds are raised, the faster the project can be put together," Adler said.
Meyer said a final route will be picked early next year, after consultation with landowners over the final months of 2017. The decision will then be aired in a third series of community meetings.
Some members of the Plymouth County Board of Supervisors have expressed reservations about the trail.
Schug said an earlier meeting in Le Mars had a large number of trail supporters, the reaction by people in the Hinton meeting seemed to be split 50-50 and those who spoke in Merrill were more questioning or dissenting.
The Sioux City Council voted in favor of claiming ownership, sponsorship, and maintenance for a portion of the trail. The city of Le Mars has agreed to be the contracting authority for development and construction and both Merrill and Hinton city officials have indicated favor as well.