KEARNEY — A dream launched 40 years ago was declared complete today (Saturday) with the dedication of the final span of hike-bike trail linking The Archway and Fort Kearny State Recreation Area east of Kearney.
The 1.8 miles of concrete and crushed rock is the final portion of the backbone of Kearney’s system of hike-bike trails. The main trail from Cottonmill Park west of the city to Fort Kearny SRA east of Kearney spans 13.2 miles.
The trail got its start in 1977 with the public acquisition of the former Burlington Northern right-of-way near Fort Kearny SRA, and the project unfolded as trail-building funds and right-of-way became available.
"I’m just so happy for all of the work people have done," said Bev Kimball, age 92, about the trail system’s original supporters and volunteers. She was among a handful of speakers who addressed the crowd of about 100 that gathered Saturday morning at The Archway to officially open the 1.8-mile link from The Archway to Fort Kearny SRA.
Seconds after Kimball and other volunteers and officials snipped a ceremonial ribbon, bicyclists were off to pedal from The Archway to Fort Kearny SRA.
"I like the new section, it’s nice and smooth," cyclist Eric Fausch of Kearney said. He had been away from cycling for a few years but was so excited about the 13.2 miles of paved surface between Cottonmill and Fort Kearny that he purchased a new bike. He said it takes him about 2½ hours to pedal the complete 26.4-mile circuit.
"I’m glad we’ve got the hike-bike trail," Fausch said.
Jonathan Nikkila, a member of the Kearney City Council and avid runner, arrived at the dedication after running from Fort Kearny SRA. "I checked the trail today, it’s beautiful."
Nikkila said hike-bike trails and other park amenities can encourage active lifestyles.
City Council member Randy Buschkoetter thanked City Manager Michael Morgan, the city staff, volunteers and landowners who granted right-of-way for making the trail possible. "The trail connects destinations, but more importantly, it connects people," Buschkoetter said.
Tim McCoy, deputy director of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, congratulated Kearney for its trails. The Cottonmill-to-Fort Kearny trail is part of a 26-mile network connecting neighborhoods and parks.
"You’ve done well, especially connecting people with nature. As we say at Game and Parks, time spent outdoors is time well spent," McCoy said.
Eric Hellreigel, assistant director of park and recreation for the city of Kearney, said the final 1.8 miles of trail cost about $600,000, all of which was provided by an anonymous donor.
Hellreigel said trails are good because they’re accessible to so many people. "If you’ve got a pair of shoes you can get on the trail.
Park Director Scott Hayden said more amenities are planned to improve the trail, including four bicycle fix-it stations, new signage, benches, shade structures and dispensers for doggy pickup bags.
Gene Hunt, the Game and Parks manager for Fort Kearny SRA, said replacing the former cinder trail surface with concrete and crushed rock has broadened the number of people who are using the trail, including people with walkers.
"We’re seeing so many people able to use the trail now because of the surface," Hunt said. A free hot dog feed today (Saturday) at the Fort Kearny shelter capped the celebration of the completed 3.2-mile trail.