Plans to connect Chadron to the largest Rails-to-Trails project in the country took a step forward when representatives of the Felsburg Holt & Ullevig (FHU) engineering firm recently met with board members from the Northwest Nebraska Trails Association (NNTA). FHU and NNTA inspected the planned trail corridor alongside the Northwest Nebraska Railroad line to the western end of the Nebraska Game and Parks Cowboy Nature and Recreation Trail.
NNTA has contracted with FHU for an engineering and design study of the Cowboy Trail Connection, a non-motorized trail running from east First Street in Chadron to the start of the Cowboy Trail, about five miles east of town. Northwest Nebraska Railroad has granted an easement to construct the trail along the right-of-way of its rail line and NNTA has committed to raise funds for construction and maintenance of the trail segment.
The Cowboy Trail is a 321-mile non-motorized trail built on the former Chicago Northwestern Railroad line from Norfolk to east of Chadron. A 192-mile segment of the trail from Norfolk to Valentine, and the section from Gordon to Rushville, has been completed with an improved limestone surface. Thanks to the support of local donors, NNTA was able to raise funds to match a federal grant that will pay for completion of the Cowboy Trail from Hay Springs to the terminus east of Chadron. Matching funds for the Rushville to Hay Springs segment was raised by Cowboy Trail West. Preliminary work on completion of the Rushville-Chadron portion of the trail is expected to begin this fall.
“The link between downtown Chadron and the Cowboy Trail will make the community a destination gateway for cross country cyclists who are eager to experience the beauty of Nebraska without the danger of riding on highways,” NNTA President Dr. Brittany Helmbrecht said. “The Cowboy Trail Connection will also give Chadron area residents the opportunity to hike, jog and bike into the scenic countryside east of town safely.”
Helmbrecht said the visit with FHU trail planner Jesse Poore and landscape designer Brad Chronowski was an exciting development, and she was impressed by the ideas they advanced for building the trail.
“FHU has done design work on a number of trails in the region, and that experience will be an advantage as the Cowboy Trail Connection project moves forward,” Helmbrecht said.
Tentative plans call for completion of the trail design study in December.
In a related development, NNTA has installed 14 unique mile markers along the Cowboy
Trail from its western end at mile marker 400 to Hay Springs. The newly placed mile markers are located at the same points along the trail as the wooden mile marker poles that were part of the railroad telegraph system.
For hikers and cyclists on the trail, the markers provide a means of measuring the distance they traveled. The powder-coated steel markers are securely mounted on metal posts and easily visible from a distance. Ten of the 14 markers bear plaques with inscriptions provided by individuals and businesses who provided sponsorship donations to NNTA. Sponsorship for two of the three remaining markers has already been pledged.
More information about mile marker sponsorships and donations to NNTA is available at www.nwnebraskatrails.com and on the Northwest Nebraska Trails Association Facebook page.