Trail of the Month: July 2003
Wabash Trace Nature Trail, Iowa
Hailed as one of the nation's "prettiest trails" by Outside Magazine, the Wabash Trace Nature Trail stretches 63 miles from Council Bluffs near the Iowa/Nebraska border to Blanchard, a small town near the Iowa/Missouri state line. The Trace passes through southwest Iowa's scenic countryside and includes magnificent views of western Iowa's Loess Hills—steep, sharply ridged ranges extending in a narrow band along the length of the Missouri River valley.
Surfaced with crushed limestone and heavily shaded, the Trace provides trail users with a first-rate facility for mountain biking and hiking during the hot summer months. Between Council Bluffs and Mineola, there is a parallel equestrian trail for approximately 10 miles. In addition to the Loess Hills, other interesting trail features include the more than 70 bridges and the original Wabash Depot in Shenandoah. The Depot, located along the trail in Sportsman's Park, has been restored and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Unlike many rail-trails that are owned and maintained by a public agency, the Wabash Trace Nature Trail depends entirely on the efforts of private citizens who build, maintain and manage the trail. While the Trace is owned by a public/private partnership between the Page County Conservation Board and the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (a nonprofit organization that protects Iowa's land, water and wildlife), trail management duties fall to Southwest Iowa Nature Trails, Inc. (SWINT). SWINT is a private, nonprofit organization made up of volunteers committed to recreational trail development. SWINT works closely with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and the Page County Conservation Board to assure the continued existence of this great recreational resource. They are involved with all aspects of managing the Trace, including constructing bridges, providing trail maintenance, planning special events and selling trail user passes.
The Trace is also proving to be a boon to the local economy. In the summer of 1999, the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation conducted a survey of Trace users and found that individual trail users spend an average of $8.41 per visit. Based on the conservative estimate that at least 50,000 people visit the Trace annually, the trail can bring in $420,000 to the local economy each year.
The preservation of the old Wabash Railroad line is due to the efforts of local trails activists, making the Wabash Trace Nature Trail a wonderful recreational resource and a piece of living history. If you happen to be in the Midwest this month, take the time to head over to the southwestern corner of Iowa to see how numerous communities came together to transform an abandoned railbed into a community asset for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy.