The Iowa River Greenbelt Resource Trust supports the current effort to rail bank the Iowa River Rail Line right-of-way for a number of reasons. The most exciting to us is that the 37-mile trail (running from Eldora to Marshalltown), once in place, will provide rural economic health, environmental and ecological benefits, and preserve natural resources.
Rural Economic Health
The history of a north/south rail line in Hardin County goes back to Eldora's earliest beginnings when the coal that was mined north of town in the Coalbank Hill area was shipped by private rail to Marshalltown for sale. The coal was then used by the larger East/West lines as they transported settlers and supplies to open the West. The rail line has been in use ever since, but always in a limited fashion.If approved, the trail will offer an additional option for recreation in Hardin County and trail users will bring tourism dollars to the communities in the area. The linkup to the American Discovery Trail could reap long-term ongoing economic benefits without impinging on the ability to restore the rail to a workable line. The owners are willing to leave the bridges in place in order to facilitate its use as a recreational trail.
Environmental and Ecological
The environmental and ecological value of the rail line corridor is tremendous and would only be enhanced by the rail banking. The 37-mile linear mixture of upland grasses and timber provides habitat and food for a wide variety of animals and birds. In Hardin County, it is a serpentine corridor that increases the odds for wildlife survival during harsh winters and provides wildlife habitat after the fields are turned over in the fall. Pheasant hunters and deer hunters will benefit and trail users will enjoy the scenery all year long. The return of the bald eagle and the pileated woodpecker speaks for itself for those of us who are bird watchers as well as hunters. It's like a river corridor but without the water.
This is an unforeseen benefit that occurs when you interrupt normal hydrology at the surface level. All surface water flows northwest to southeast in this part of the state, so a 37-mile rail line that runs north/south creates a literal terrace that's 37 miles long. It slows the water flow and the subsequent soil erosion is lessened. It acts like the waterway in a field by altering and interrupting the surface runoff. Tiles can still be a problem but many of them do not run under the line so it truly is a soil conservator.
The best thing about this project is that it is already in existence. Any improvements would be phased in after public input and funds become available.