Rail-trail program in central Kansas follows long road
Hutchinson Efforts to transform abandoned rail lines into trails have followed a long and winding road in central Kansas.
The projects, which provide long paths for walking, running, bicycling and horseback riding, are the most abundant in the eastern part of the state. They include a 117-mile-long Flint Hills Nature Trail that stretches from Osawatomie to Herrington and the roughly 50-mile Prairie Spirit Trail that connects Ottawa with Iola.
In some central Kansas communities, however, finding the necessary support and funding has proven challenging, The Hutchinson News reported.
The first official rail trail in the state was a 1-mile strip on the east side of Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence that opened in 1991. Out-of-service rail corridors have been snapped up ever since through a process known as railbanking. Rail companies temporarily transfer ownership of the right of way occupied by their tracks to local governments or outside groups, under the stipulation that they may resume control later if needed.
But in Reno County, Public Works Director Dave McComb said there isn't a rail trail, nor is he aware of any interest in developing one.
"There was some talk of it early when rails-to-trails initiatives began," he said. "That was maybe about 15 years ago."
Merrill Peterson, the city clerk of Buhler, about 50 miles northwest of Wichita, said in an email that a project was discussed "way back when" after a rail track was abandoned. The idea fizzled, he added, due to problems with money and property rights, and the railroad right of way was claimed by surrounding landowners.
In Hutchinson, local leaders have made efforts in recent years to improve the city's walkability. Those include new, traditional trails in the northeast section of the city. When paired with the Jim P. Martinez Sunflower Trail between Rice and Carey parks, they comprise about 26 miles of recreational pathways.
Not an inch has been built on former railroad land.
Bob Updegraff, owner of Harley's Bicycles, said customers regularly inquire about trails in the area. Any new development, including rail trails, would only add to the amenities in place, he said.
"We'd be behind it, of course. Totally," he said.