Allen County Is Model For Kansas Trail Development

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The Southwind Rail Trail between Iola and Humboldt is the first Kansas rails-to-trails project to be fully supported by local county government, helping Allen County earn its “King of Trails” designation.

A recent story in the Joplin Globe highlights the unique relationship between county government and trail efforts in Allen County, and how we’ve become a model for the rest of Kansas:

Southwind Rail Trail Elm Creek BridgeWalking, running and cycling on rail-to-trail projects in the Midwest makes for a great way to see history, but what about the trail itself making history?

It happened in Southeast Kansas, when the Southwind Rail Trail opened in 2013. The 6.5-mile route runs from Humboldt, Kansas, to Iola, where it connects with the 51-mile Prairie Spirit Trail, a state park that runs north to the community of Ottawa, Kansas.

The nationwide Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has this to say about the Southwind: “In a first for Kansas, the local (Allen) county commission also voted to help maintain and manage the trail.”

It is historic because these kinds of trails have not always been welcome in Kansas. You need look no further than what happened in Cherokee County a decade or so ago to understand the opposition such a project can generate.

But with the support of Allen County Commissioners, hostility to these kinds of projects may be easing in Kansas, where one of the largest rail-to-trail conversions in the nation is now underway.

Although the county is the legal manager of the trail, all work is done by volunteers, including raising money. “The county has not had to put up any cash,” he said, but has offered in-kind contributions such as heavy equipment for trail improvements. Even with that, the Southwind wasn’t a sure thing. “There was quite a bit of opposition from neighbors,” Toland explained.

But county commissioners got behind it because they saw it as part of a larger economic development strategy aimed at bringing in outsiders and also providing opportunities for locals.

Read more: Southeast Kansas rail-to-trail project makes history

KingOfTrails-300Today, thanks to the hard work of volunteers and the support from County Commissioners, the Southwind Rail Trail is one of the most popular and well-used public amenities in Allen County, and draws riders and hikers from around the region.

Even better, the success of the Southwind has led to additional trails being built, such as the Lehigh Portland Trails and the Mo-Pac Trail, with even more ambitious trail projects on the drawing board.

With all of this activity, Allen County is definitely earning its reputation as “King of Trails“!