Creating One of the Nation’s Longest Paved Recreational Trail Loops
Extending from the Walnut Creek crossing along Hickman Road in Clive to the community of Jefferson, the Raccoon River Valley Trail (RRVT) has been a work in process since the late 1980s. Most of the trail is constructed on a former railroad right-of-way that had long ago been abandoned by the railroad companies. The new life given to these rail lines by this rails-to-trails project is one more step in making Iowa a leader in multi-use trail construction.
The design team with Snyder & Associates became involved with this rails-to-trails project in the late 2000s. Our team was tasked with designing a 35-mile trail extension through Dallas and Guthrie Counties. This extension established one of the longest paved, recreational trail loops in the nation at 72-miles-long and connected 15 communities and four counties in central Iowa. It also completed a critical section of the 3,700-mile-long Great American Rail-Trail route.
Railroad Bridge Retrofits & Refurbished Depot Trailheads
This multi-year project involved three railroad bridge rehabilitations and retrofits, two box culvert improvements, and one box culvert replacement. Shuck-Britson, a subsidiary of Snyder & Associates, prepared detailed plans to convert the railroad structures for trail use. The trail sections our team designed for the north loop extension are 10-foot-wide concrete paths that follow the rail-banked corridor.
Because the trail system passes through many communities that formerly utilized the railroad network for passenger travel, abandoned depots were present in several towns along the proposed path. Depots in the communities of Dawson, Perry, and Minburn were rehabilitated for use as trailhead destinations. These upgrades include restrooms, freshwater access, vending machines, shelter areas, and historic interpretive displays.
Due to funding schedules and local budget constraints, this 35-mile trail extension was divided into numerous construction projects that spanned several years. This brief timeline outlines the major accomplishments under each construction season:
- June 2008 — An 894-foot-long bridge retrofit and two box culvert upgrades between the towns of Dawson and Perry
- April 2009 — 1.77-mile Waukee Trail extension
- August 2009 — 6.74-mile Dawson to Perry paving completed
- August 2010 — 5.4-mile Dallas Center to Waukee connection
- September 2010 — .27-mile trail through Minburn
- September 2011 — 5.59-mile trail connection between Perry and Minburn
- June 2012 — 5.88-mile trail connection between Minburn and Dallas Center that included a 13-foot-long railroad bridge retrofit (This project represents the smallest retrofit our team has ever completed)
- June 2012 — 2-mile trail section between Jamaica and Dawson completed
- August 2012 — 2-mile trail section between Herndon and Jamaica, including a box culvert replacement
While many portions of the trail remained open during trail additions, a grand opening of the completed 89-mile trail (including the 72-mile trail loop) was held on June 1, 2013.
Multi-Disciplinary Service Offering & Inter-Agency Coordination Streamlines Trail Project
The Snyder & Associates team provided lead design services on this multi-year project that encompassed land surveying services, including preliminary survey, boundary survey, construction staking, and construction observation. Professional trail design services included trail alignment and profile design, and bridge and culvert rehabilitation detailing. Wetland and stream delineation along with 404 permitting assistance, a bat habitat survey, and a categorical exclusion for funding purposes were also provided by our environmental services team.
In addition, our team performed a hydrologic and hydraulic analysis of the box culvert between Herndon and Jamaica that needed to be replaced. We also coordinated with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on the submittal of a joint application for the box culvert replacement.
In conjunction with the design of the project, we provided cost opinions for use in funding applications, detailed construction cost opinions for each segment, and obtained the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit for the projects on behalf of our clients. Since the trail crossed State Highways 44 and 169, extensive coordination with the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) was also required. The first three projects in this long series were let through the Iowa DOT using Iowa DOT specifications. Our team administered local lettings for each of the remaining projects utilizing Statewide Urban Design and Specifications (SUDAS) criteria.
Trail Building for the Future
Plans to further strengthen Iowa’s vast trail network through the Let’s Connect Trail project are continuing with Snyder & Associates serving as the lead trail design firm. This includes a 9-mile trail segment that will link the Raccoon River Valley Trail with the High Trestle Trail between Perry and Woodward. Much like the north loop of the RRVT, this trail section is being built in phases to meet funding allotments. During the summer of 2018, 1.5 miles of the trail was built starting in Perry and working east. Phase two was constructed just west of Woodward in 2019. Phases three and four are scheduled to wrap up in late 2021 or the spring of 2022. When completed, this trail will create a first-class amenity for the region by connecting two of the most popular trail systems in the state.