A former railroad route running north from Marshalltown through Albion, Liscomb, Eldora and Steamboat Rock will be a topic of discussion at the Marshalltown City Council meeting Monday.
The council will be asked to be the sponsoring agency for a grant the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF) will use to acquire the former railroad bed and to turn it into a trail.
So what does that mean?
It means the city would essentially own the trail without having to buy the trail.
In most places in Iowa, trails such as this are owned and operated by the county governments, not a city. However, in Iowa, the city of Coon Rapids opted to be the sponsoring agency for a converted rail bed in Guthrie County. So, Marshalltown would not be alone if the council chose to do this.
But Marshall County opted not to team up with INHF out of concern for future and ongoing maintenance costs associated with trail upkeep.
Should the city be worried about this as well?
According to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy group, annual maintenance costs for rail beds that have been converted to trails vary widely in expenses. For trails maintained by volunteers, the average cost per mile is about $500 per year. For trails maintained by government entities, the average cost per mile is about double that figure.
This trail is about 30 miles long, so Marshalltown could be facing ongoing maintenance costs of anywhere from $15,000-30,000 per year no small number when cities are already feeling the budget pinch.
However, proponents for the city sponsoring the trail point to the economic benefits associated with trails and how people are attracted to and want to live in communities that have recreational amenities.
But if the council takes this project on how does it address the ongoing maintenance concerns?
We think the answer lies right alongside the trail itself.
The trail has a 100-foot right-of-way on either side of the trail. That translates into 24 acres of right-of-way land per mile.
With 30 miles of trail, that means there are potentially 720 acres of land that go along with owning the trail. Obviously all of this land may not be tillable. But at an average rental rate of $300 per acre for farm ground in Iowa, the city would only need to rent out less than 7 percent of that ground to fund maintenance into perpetuity.
So before the council writes the trail off for Marshalltown as "too costly" as others have done, we encourage the council to see this for what it is a great opportunity to have a 30-mile, self-funded trail for recreational use by our residents for years to come and one that will attract visitors to our community to see why Marshalltown is one of the best communities anywhere to live, work and raise a family.