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Partnership brings success to Nebraska trails

By Julie Carmazzi Madden for the American Hiking Society
From the Summer 1997 Trail Tracks, the national newsletter of American Trails

Map of Nebraska

The Trail and Partnership Movement

Located in southeastern Nebraska, Lincoln has a population of approximately 200,000. In 1978, the City embarked on the development of a trail system which currently comprises 60+ miles of multi-use trails. These development efforts have been a steady process for the past decade.

In 1989, a Lincoln Area Trails Master Plan was drafted by the Lincoln/Lancaster Planning Department, City Council, Recreation Trails Advisory Committee, and the Great Plains Trails Network (GPTN), a newly formed citizen support group. The Master Plan made it possible to ensure trail provisions were included within street improvement and drainage system projects undertaken by the city and natural resources district. Additionally, the Master Plan established a basis for fiscal planning which would support scheduled trail development projects. Once the trail system is completed, approximately 99% of all Lincoln residents will have a trail within one mile of their home.

A substantial portion of the trail development funding came from a city bond passed in 1989. After this demonstrated citizen commitment, regular inclusions for trail funding was included in the city's budget. Additionally, several state matching programs and local business contributions assisted in funding ongoing trail development. The Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department spent $3.8 million on trail acquisition and development from 1988 to 1996. In addition, the GPTN has provided substantial funding and resources for land acquisition.

A Recreation Trails Advisory Committee still operates today functioning in mainly an advisory role. Comprised of local citizens, public advocates and city employees, the group meets with the Mayor on an ongoing basis.

Partnership Process

Since the early stages of the trail movement, a strong public/private partnership has existed in the Lincoln, Nebraska, area. The City is the lead agency working with the Recreation Districts and the Great Plains Trails Network. Currently, there is no written partnership agreement and the GPTN does not feel a need for one at this point in time.

GPTN has been the key private partner assisting the City with trail growth since the master planning process. Initial efforts by a group of individuals to acquire a piece of abandoned railroad bed that was being disposed of led to the creation of the GPTN. Although these initial efforts were unsuccessful, the need to have an organized group to work with government agencies on trail issues was recognized. Thus, the creation of the GPTN became a reality during the mid 1980's.

The need for a partnership was initially seen by the GPTN, who did not have the ability to acquire railroad abandonments which are the region's main trail sources. Therefore, the GPTN decided its actions would be raising the money for land acquisition and government would be responsible for management of the title. By working together, the trail development process could expand within the city.

The Great Plains Trail Network

The Great Plains Trail Network (GPTN) has been a strong trail partner serving as a nonprofit, advocating and supporting a network of multi-use trails throughout the region. By assisting in the implementation of the public 1989 Trail Master Plan through fundraising and promotional efforts, their role has been vital in developing and expanding the Lincoln trail system. Although the City has decision making responsibility, the GPTN actively voices concerns as well as providing a substantial amount of funding for land acquisition. Its main role includes legislative and financial assistance for trail planning.

One strength of GPTN's many strengths is their vision of working with and through other special interest organizations. As part of their financial commitment, the GPTN works with the Nebraska State Foundation since they offer tax deductible benefits to contributors whereas the GPTN does not; they are not a 501-C3. The GPTN filters some of their moneys through the Nebraska State Foundation who in return reimburses the GPTN for some of their marketing efforts.

Additionally, much of the growth of the GPTN can be attributed to involving a variety of user groups in their efforts. Throughout the years, walking, running, and biking groups have been solicited to become members of GPTN; diversifying trail issues and efforts. Membership includes individuals, groups, and corporations. GPTN has recognized the importance of building a comprehensive community movement for trails.

What Made it Work?

Two components of the planning process have contributed greatly to the success of the GPTN. The first includes having supportive public agencies willing to work together with other organizations sharing a common goal. The second, was the development of the 1989 master plan which served as a guiding force, keeping all partners focused on the long range goals and objectives of the city's trail system.

Accomplishments of the Partnership

The partnership actively promoted the city bond issue through presentations, radio announcements, and mailing programs. The bond issue contained $1.7 million dollars for trail development and won by a 79% vote in 1989.

Purchased railroad corridor for trail expansion; raising $275,000 over 18 months to fund the purchase.

Initiated a development plan to reduce multi-use trail conflict.

Conducted a variety of trail user surveys to assist in long range planning.

Involved at a statewide level increasing trail promotion and support throughout the state.

Assisted in the installation of trail markings and signage including a Mile, Kilometer and Benchmark Donor Club program which funded such markings.

Raised over $1 million dollars in private funds.

Sponsored an annual award program recognizing individual efforts that foster trail development.

Coordinated and assisted in special events held on and for the trail.

Currently, have an 800+ membership base.

Lessons Learned

The GPTN has successfully dealt with many cases of trail opposition by holding public hearings, presenting testimonials, and writing articles supporting trails. By effectively educating the community about the benefits of a trail system, GPTN is constantly increasing citizen support for trails.

Currently, physical gaps in the trail are a concern since long range plans include one contiguous trail system and obtaining railroad rights-of-way is a difficult and time consuming process. Although potential linkages do exist, it will take serious negotiations with private landowners for completed land acquisition. If during the initial planning process, the physical alignment and design of the trail had been addressed, this broken-up trail system might have been completed. A comprehensive land acquisition plan could have been implemented instead of dealing with sections one at a time.

Additionally, based from GPTN's experience, trail advocates should be involved in physical trail design during the entire planning process. Occasionally, trail designs and implementations lacked user input, placing the trail in locations ill suited for trail use. By involving a trail user during the planning, design, and implementation phases, trail layout should meet the needs of the trail community.

Future Direction and Partners to Date

The GPTN will continue to be involved with planning and implementing trails that focus on local and regional linkages. Recognizing the importance of citizen involvement, the GPTN has been and will continue to be an effective partner assisting the city as needed due to their limited resources. For more information, contact V.T. Miller, Great Plains Trails Network, (402) 483-2653.

Julie Carmazzi Madden, the author of this series of case studies, is Greenway Coordinator for the Stapleton Development Corporation in Denver. As part of the redevelopment of Denver's former international airport, she is working to develop a major urban trail while rehabilitating Sand Creek in partnership with a wide variety of interests.

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