From Trash to Treasure: In Oklahoma, Locals Transform Long Neglected Rail-Trail

Posted 06/07/12 by Laura Stark in Building Trails

Photo © BJ Barnes

When Josh Snyder first became interested in running marathons, he asked around the small town of Poteau, Okla., for a training partner and was directed to the only known marathon runner in town. Yes, just the one. Fortunately, his new friend knew just where to go to train: the Old Frisco Trail.

Cutting through dense woodlands that block the wind and offer shade from the hot Oklahoma sun, the rail-trail was the ideal place to run. But there was a problem. Long neglected, the trail had become so overgrown and in such disrepair that people began dumping their trash on it from nearby roadways (right), especially on days when the city dump was closed.

Snyder, who runs a lawn and landscaping business, wanted to help. He visited the trail several times that first year to prune, mow and spray for weeds. And, with regular care and attention, the maintenance of the trail has become easier and easier.

But the work didn't stop there. The state donated several tons of crushed asphalt that Snyder applied to low areas of the trail that used to fill with water after a rain; sandstone mile markers have been added to make the trail easier to navigate; and yellow stakes placed at road crossings have made the trail safer and discouraged four-wheelers from blazing down it. The newest feature is a four-foot-tall granite stone engraved with the trail's name and placed at the entrance to make it more inviting. The majority of these improvements were paid for and made by local businesses and residents, giving both their time and their money to maintain what is becoming a popular community asset.

BJ Barnes, another Poteau resident and mountain biker, worked with a local sign shop to design a logo for the trail that reflected its rail history. Placed along the nearby bypass and state highway, the new signs call attention to the trail and direct people to it.

Photo © BJ Barnes

"Before, the trail was out of sight, out of mind," Barnes says, "But with the signs up, people are talking about it."

Private citizens began stepping up and asking what they could do to help, and local businesses sponsored the new entrance stone and other aspects of the trail. The list of groups wanting to pitch in grew long and varied, including the high school cross-country running team that adopted a mile, and a contractor in town who fixed several of the trail's worn-down trestle bridges.

When asked whether he sees himself as a leader of the movement, Snyder demurs, saying he is "only one of many." His advice for people in other communities tackling similar problems with their trails is to form a social network of people who enjoy the trail and want to advocate for it.

As the Old Frisco Trail becomes cleaner, safer and more visible, its popularity is increasing. "Four years ago, there was one man running in Poteau," says Snyder. "Now there are 50 to 100 people regularly running and biking. It's definitely catching on."

Much is left to do, though. The trail's first four miles are now in terrific shape, but the remaining few that lead to the town of Wister still need work. With the momentum behind him, Snyder is up for the challenge, excited to extend the distance that trail-goers can exercise. Having lived in the area his whole life, he enjoys seeing people "getting off their butts...I want people to know that there's more out here. We live in a beautiful area of eastern Oklahoma."

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