Dozens of Mills County residents took part in a series of public forums earlier this month to share their thoughts on the potential for the future of a county-wide trail system in Mills County.
Brian Leaders, a landscape architect for the U.S. National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, facilitated four “listening sessions” over an eight-day period in Glenwood, Emerson and Malvern. In addition to discussing potential benefits of an enhanced trail system, forum participants were given the opportunity to map out what they consider to be the most-desirable locations and routes of future recreational trails in Mills County.
Leaders said the listening sessions are part of the process being followed by the Mills County Trail Committee, a group of citizens that’s been meeting on a regular basis over the past two years to discuss expanded recreational opportunities in the county and the possibility of building new trails to provide more residents direct access to the Wabash Trace Nature Trail.
“We’re talking about walking, running and biking trails throughout the county with a focus on connecting communities to the Wabash Trace,” Leaders said.
The two-decade old Wabash Trace runs from Council Bluffs to the Missouri border near Blanchard, passing through the Mills County communities of Mineola, Silver City and Malvern. It’s become one of the most popular bicycling trails in the region.
In addition to creating community “spurs” to the Wabash Trace, the Mills County Trail Committee is also gauging interest in the establishment of equestrian trails and expanded recreational opportunities on and along creeks and rivers that pass through the county.
During all of the listening sessions, participants were asked to discuss Mills County’s strengths and weaknesses pertaining to the development of trails.
The list of the county’s strengths included the Loess Hills, Wabash Trace, proximity to the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro area, existing parks and recreational areas, ties to historically-significant trails like the Mormon Trail and the future Highway 34-Missouri River bridge.
Some of the weaknesses mentioned are the county’s topography (hills), high traffic on major roadways and a lack of hotels.
Many residents taking part in the listening sessions said they believe an expanded trail system would be a benefit to tourism.
Leaders said support from the community and private landowners is an essential equation in the successful development of trails.
The next step in the process, Leaders said, is for the Mills County Trail Committee to put together a single map based on the recommendations and drawings to come out of the listening sessions.
“Once the committee agrees on a map, they’ll take it to the (county) supervisors. The supervisors will be asked to adopt the map for a comprehensive plan,” Leaders said. “Then, the funding process will begin.”
Trail funding can come from a variety of public and private sources, including grants, Leaders said.