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  • Tue July 14 2009
  • Posted Jul 14, 2009
RICEVILLE IA The Wapsi-Great Western Line Trail was conceived as a recreational trail with wellness in mind. But like its own twists and turns, the trail has become more than a sum of its miles. It provides fun and health while protecting history and undisturbed areas of the Iowa prairie. “And, our goal from the beginning was to have a trail of statewide significance in a such a small little town,” said WGWL committee leader Elaine Govern. With the help of donations and grants —including a $1.3 million Vision Iowa CAT grant — as well as the dedication of a 40-member volunteer corps, the project has been sustained over the past two decades. The committee’s latest addition has been the opening of its welcome center. “Most of us would have been happy just having the trail get as far as Lake Hendricks, just a mile or so off of Highway 9 in Riceville) when the project began in 1990,” joked trail supporter Jim Cody. But today, almost 18 miles of paved trail exists, and another 13 miles is lime-screened. The trail stretches from Elma to the south, north to Riceville and then near a point near the town of McIntire and the Pinicon Alders Wildlife area, to the Minnesota border. The project has been estimated at $6.5 million, but is probably worth much more when considering in-kind and donated labor. Much of the trail is built within the abandoned railbed of the Great Western Railroad and rolls along with the Wapsipinicon River corridor. The result is a trail that encompasses the scope of Iowa landscapes, including prairie, timbered areas, marshland and farmland. Not only does it take in Lake Hendricks at Riceville but also visitors can see an extensive butterfly garden, prairie wildflower area and “Memory Lane,” a stretch of trees planted and marked in memory of several citizens. But one of the most significant additions is a welcome center that celebrates the area’s heritage and marks the Wapsi’s trailhead. The center was created from a former church built in 1858, moved in 2002 from another Riceville location to its new home. The center retains the sanctuary of the church — now a place that provides space for gatherings and presentations — and also offers a downstairs meeting area that has a kitchen and a scenic outdoor patio. The space can be rented for various functions, Govern said. As always, the trail is a work in progress. At the top of its priority list is paving five miles from Acme to Elma, south of Riceville, and then ultimately connecting a four-mile stretch from the Iowa border to the Shooting Star Trail. Committee members pledged to continue the hardest work: fundraising and acquiring the needed easements for more trail. “We write grants; we flip pancakes,” Govern said. The committee has planned several activities in and around the trail, from a yoga sampler held at the center, to a 5K Run/Walk that kicks off at the center on Saturday, July 18. For more information, contact Barry Christensen at 641-220- 1406. The welcome center is open 2-5 p.m. during summer weekends.

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