Hoover Trail revival begins

Mary Atkinson/Jacob Lane · Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Springtime marks the revival of nature in Iowa. It also marks the revival of the Hoover Nature Trail, specifically the piece that connects West Liberty and Nichols.

Several community members met Thursday, March 6, at WL City Hall to discuss ways to go about restoring and bringing the connecting section back to life.

The group included former WL Mayor Chad Thomas, City Treasurer Lee Geertz, Nichols Mayor Cyle Geertz, Conrad Gregg, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF) Program Director Lisa Hein and INHF Volunteer Coordinator Mary Runkel.

For decades there has been interest in using the old Rock Island and Pacific Ocean railroad mainline from Burlington to Cedar Rapids as a conservation trail for hiking and biking- a project started by West Liberty resident Milly Gregg.

Unfortunately, she passed away and the railroad went bankrupt. Initially, Milly Gregg wanted to use that part of the railway as a steam engine tourist line. But when that didn't pan out she and others were able to acquire the land in an effort to convert it into a nature trail.

Now, the communities of Nichols and West Liberty would like to bring home that dream by at least getting the two communities connected. Her husband, Conrad Gregg, was present at the meeting to lend his support.

Nichols Mayor Geertz and his wife Lee of the Nichols Betterment Committee met with members of West Liberty last week to recognize and prioritize the tasks that are needed to complete the project.

West Liberty's part of the trail runs from North Elm Street down to the depot. One part of the trail is owned by the West Liberty Heritage Foundation and was recently paved.

It's become a popular walking spot that begins at the depot, goes by the high school, and ends out on the highway. Many residents are involved with its upkeep.

Lisa Hein and Mary Runkel, of the INHF, were on hand to assess the group’s needs and ideas as well as suggest possibilities to deal with landowners.

The INHF owns the Nichols portion of the trail. Mayor Geertz said he thought the biggest problem with landowners would be liability.

"If it's not deeded to you [the INHF] or city of West Liberty or Nichols then it's still going be his property."

Hein said they could have a trail easement in that case and there could be liability in the language.

The hope of the group is to connect West Liberty, Nichols and Conesville for now, using volunteers other interested parties to maintain the trail.

Interest in the project began last year when Mayor Geertz, along with Jamie Kirk and other members of the Nichols Betterment Committee, began trail work. They flattened out much of its gravel foundation and removed weeds from the seven mile stretch.

The portion they hope to upgrade starts three miles north of Nichols, stops right before town, then picks up again for another four miles south of town.

Nichols hosted a 5k run last year that was met with much success in order to promote the trail. It plans to do the same this year.

However, a final trail will take community involvement on both sides, as well as several partnerships with the cities, landowners and various organizations.
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