HINTON, Iowa | Tom Keehn sat near the entrance to a public session concerning the PlyWood trail Wednesday with a bucket and a cardboard sign that read: "Homeless Bike Trail Please Help God Bless!"
"I'm just begging for money like they are," Keehn said, referencing organizers to the proposed 16-mile trail. "That's what they are doing, they have no authority to do this at all."
The two-county recreational trail is planned to stretch from inside Sioux City's corporate limits to those of Le Mars and is named after the first few letters of Plymouth and Woodbury counties.
The Sioux City Council voted in favor of claiming ownership, sponsorship, and maintenance for a portion of the trail. Le Mars has agreed to be the contracting authority for development and construction and both Merrill and Hinton have indicated favor as well.
The PlyWood Trail Committee is trying to secure private funding for the design and development and to build a $500,000 endowment to cover upkeep expenses, which is all in the works.
In Plymouth County, the trail would run for six miles in an abandoned railway, as verbally approved by the Iowa Department of Transportation, contingent upon final engineering plans. The other 10 miles would cross about 30 private landowners' parcels, where easements would be needed. It would also tie into an existing trail in Hinton, on the west side of Highway 75.
Keehn was one of the dozens of concerned citizens that attended the informational meeting at the Hinton Community Center. Most of the upset residents were concerned with potential vandalism, loss of property value, erosion from storm water runoff and liability issues the trail could potentially present.
Keehn, of Hinton, owns a blacksmith business on the north edge of city limits and an early design shows the trail going through his land.
"It's going to be 100 feet off my front door," he said, although the path of the trail as not been finalized. "If I get a 40-foot beam on a forklift and I'm swinging it around, it could be a bad situation."
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Keehn was also concerned with the a "lack of communication" between landowners and trail officials.
"They are coming fast and furious," said Greg Grupp, a member of the PlyWood Trail Committee. "There have been so many misconceptions. The whole idea was to provide everybody the opportunity to talk to us one on one."
Grupp said the reason citizens have felt out of the loop is due to there not being a finalized route.
"We couldn't talk to landowners because we don't have a definitive route for the trail yet. We really needed to know the ownership of the trail ... that was the big question," he said. "That's only been determined within the last 30 days who would own the trail if we got it built. That's why I'm saying 'if.' That's a big if, a big 16-mile if."
Grupp said public ownership that has been favored by the cities is critical to the trail's long-term success because of the liability protection not available to landowners and private nonprofits as well as the means to govern and enforce trail usage.
There will be another public informational meeting 6 p.m. Thursday in the Merrill City Council chambers.
"We are not going to answer everybody to their entire satisfaction but at least we can try to put a damper on the rumor mills and speculations and misconceptions and let them know where we are and where we want to go with their input," Grupp said.
In a best-case scenario, construction could start in late 2018, after financing is finalized and easements settled.