Volunteers see community benefits to Baldwin City of foot trail being built at Douglas County State Lake
After a hard Saturday morning of work, Don Phipps and Mike Goodwin rested on a footbridge they installed at Douglas County State Lake.
Aided by Stan Vickers, Dave Simmons, Gerard Arantowicz and a walk-behind track loader with multiple frontend attachments, Phipps and Goodwin spent the morning carving out sections of a trail on the west side of the lake. The morning had been productive, with the walking path laid down through prairie and woodlands from the southern end of lake property near North 375 Road to the footbridge spanning a small stream just north of the lake's southernmost access area.
For now, Phipps and Goodwin's noon resting place was a footbridge to nowhere. The pathway ends abruptly with the start of dense underbrush at the north end of the bridge. But in their minds, Phipps and Goodwin can see the completed trail that will soon extend beyond.
“When it’s completed, people will be able to walk from the dam to the end of the lake property,” Phipps said. “That’s about a mile. Hikers and campers will be able to walk the complete way without stepping on the pavement.”
As with the work completed Saturday, the trail will make use of gravel roadways in the access areas, Phipps explained. The new footpath will cross the wooded “pinch points” separating the access areas, which now force pedestrians onto North 400 Road as they walk the lake’s perimeter, he said.
Phipps, who lives near the lake, said he had the vision for the footpath while enjoying walks at the lake.
“While I was walking, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have a perimeter pathway around the entire lake,’” he said.
Rather than keep the idea to himself, Phipps took it to State Sen. Tom Holland, who referred him to the Baldwin City Economic Development Council. Phipps got an enthusiastic reception from EDC members Dave Hill and Bill Harmon, who is the co-chair of the trail project's development committee with Phipps.
The EDC contributed $10,000 for the trail's construction and maintenance, a figure Hill's Mid-America Bank matched.
“The Baldwin City Economic Development Council and Mid-America Bank both liked the idea and could easily see the recreation opportunity this trail could offer Douglas County and our community and further enhance the beautiful property that is located so close and conveniently to Baldwin City,” Hill said.
As vital as the financial support was to making Phipps' vision happen, trail advocates realized no pathway was possible without the support of the lake’s owner, The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. They sought and received support from Linda Linterman, parks director of KDWPT, and Linda Craighead, KDWPT assistant secretary. Phipps also reached out to two area managers directly involved with Douglas County State Lake, Justin Hamilton, the lake’s park manager, and John Silovsky, the KDWPT regional parks land supervisor.
“They felt that it would be great to have a perimeter path because it would give anglers and hunters access to parts of the lake they can’t access without a boat,” Phipps said.
The thorough Phipps also approached the Douglas County Commission and won its support as well as the cooperation of county public works director Keith Browning, who kept the space needed for the pathway in mind when the county made recent improvement to North 400 Road.
Helping sustain the momentum was the interest of Goodwin, a board member and past president of the Kansas Trails Council. The nonprofit, volunteer group has made available Goodwin's expertise and one of its three “Trail in a Box” work trailers for the local project, which includes the track loader.
Goodwin is the volunteer manager of the Clinton Lake North Shore Trail and one on the Cedar Crest property in Topeka, which is home to the governor’s mansion. The trail marathon runner said his interest in building and maintaining trails stemmed from an “ah ha” moment while training on a Clinton Lake trail.
“I saw a sign that said the trail was maintained by volunteers,” he said. “That made me think that I should get involved.”
Phipps and Goodwin said they appreciated the help they received Saturday but would be grateful for more volunteers as they completed the remainder of the trail’s phase I to the dam during future Saturday workdays. Those wanting to help can email Phipps at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As phase I implies, the trail will eventually consist of more than the footpath along the lake’s western side. Phipps said the trail will be extended to Eisenhower Road via North 375, pending easement approvals. More challenging will be carving out the trail’s phase II, which will provide access to the lake’s large central peninsula that is now open only to those willing to wade a creek and brave a jungle of trees and tangled underbrush.
The trail's phase II will start near the lake’s west side southern access area, cross a stream to the east with another footbridge, travel north to the tip of the peninsula between the lake's fingers, turn south to a point on the east side of the peninsula and then return to the west access area.
“It will be a big triangle,” Phipps said.
The KDWPT is supportive once again because of the opportunity to open areas of the lake now inaccessible to hikers, anglers and hunters. But the department also supports the project because of the proposed addition of an 8-foot-wide low-water bridge it can use to get equipment to the peninsula, Phipps said. He is now negotiating with three contractors about installing that bridge, which will consist of a large culvert with earthen approaches, he said.
Work on phase II will start in the fall, but the timing is dependent on the selected contractor’s schedule. That’s fine, because trails are mostly built during cooler weather when insects, snakes and poison ivy are less of a nuisance, Goodwin said.
Phipps, the trail visionary, said the completed trails would open up new recreational opportunities to local resident while attracting hikers, hunters and fishermen from elsewhere.
“There are some nice benefits that come from this,” he said. “It’s a nice selling point for Baldwin City, having on its northeast side a lake with a hiking trail. A lot of communities don’t have that. This will be comparable to what the city of Lawrence is doing on its north side at a fraction of the cost.”