Bounding elegantly outward from the Des Moines metro, through valleys and across creeks, is the newly extended Chichaqua Valley Trail.

Named after a Native American term for "skunk" and pronounced "chee-chak-wah," the trail drifts northeastward — away from the city, away from traffic, and away from the general hustle and bustle that comes from daily life.

The trail, which now runs at roughly 28 miles from East 29th Street in Des Moines to rural Baxter, had over six miles added from its new Des Moines starting point to just west of Bondurant — which is set for a grand opening on April 25.

Why is this roughly six miles of trail such a big deal for the cycling community?

For the first time ever, central Iowa cyclists can access the Chichaqua Valley Trail from the metro, due to the trail now crossing the Gay Lea Wilson Trail just northeast of the I-80 and I-35 intersection. It creates a link from the other metro trails, such as the Neal Smith Trail, Great Western Trail, and beyond to Chichaqua Valley, which has been isolated from connectivity in years past.

Jeremy Lewis, executive director of the Des Moines Bicycle Collective, said connectivity between the trails is "key."

Riders cruise along the newly-paved bridge at Mally's park in Berwick on the Chichaqua Trail heading toward Bondurant on April 18, 2015.(Photo: Bryon Houlgrave/The Register)

"This connection is a vital link to make commuting by bicycle in Des Moines possible," Lewis said. "Every year, it becomes more feasible as a bike commuter to use recreational trails to get into Des Moines."

The trail takes riders across rolling hills and magnificent fields, through wooded clearings and across central Iowa back roads. Its scenic views offer a fitting change of pace from the urban trails and weave and flow through the greater Des Moines area.

It crosses creeks and streams — like the Four Mile Creek — before ending in the cozy downtown of Baxter.

Loren Lown, natural areas and parks administrator for Polk County Conservation, said the trail, which had its original installment built in 1987 as one of the first trails in Iowa, will get an "incredible" amount of use thanks to the new extension.

"It's really exciting at this stage to see these last segments," Lown said. "Basically, you can go from Perry to Baxter on multi-purpose trails. The Chichaqua Valley Trail was already popular, but people would have to ride on roads or trailer their bikes to a parking lot to get on it."

The $1.3 million project, which was built between late summer 2014 and winter 2015, became possible due to the passing of the Polk County Water & Land Legacy Bond in November 2012, Lown said. The bond enables funds for opportunities to improve the trails and parks of Polk County — including the expansion of current trials, such as the Chichaqua Valley.

"Expanding and connecting trails in Central Iowa is good for both recreation as well as transportation," Lewis said. "Recreational trail users benefit by having more miles for them to explore and enjoy. Businesses benefit from the influx of new customers. Commuters benefit from having yet another safe route to get where they need to go."

Artur Golebiewski, publicity chair of the Des Moines Cycle Club, said the expansion adds versatility to the trail system in and around the Des Moines area. The cycle club has been around for over four decades, Golebiewski said, and has between 50 to 75 members at a time.

"So far we had limited options of routes going north, south and west, now we can proudly also head east out of the metro area," Golebiewski said. "It is incredible how one could now spend a whole week traveling on long, interconnected trails heading out of Des Moines in various directions without having to use the same trail twice."

Polk County Conservation is gearing up for a grand opening featuring the best of the Chichaqua Valley Trail, both old and new. Five towns along the trail, starting at Berwick to Bondurant to Mingo to Ira and ending at Baxter, have different events slated for bicycle lovers of all ages.

Some of the events include: a ribbon cutting, yoga in the park and giveaways at Mally's Weh-Weh-Neh-Kee Park in Berwick; human foosball, big wheel races or giant beer pong at Founders Irish Pub in Bondurant; drink specials and live music at the Greencastle Tavern in Mingo; a snack station in Ira; and "Grillin' and Chillin' " live music at Cadillac Jack's in Baxter.

"There's something happening in every single community along the way," Lown said. "What's exciting to me about this is the enthusiasm of the small towns along the way, [as well as] the larger trail community. They've been waiting a long time for this."

All celebration aside, the trail creates an important backbone for the lifelong health of Iowans.

"It's a place where you can take your 10-year-old and let them ride and not worry about cross-driveways," Lown said. "A lot of people, such as myself, just like to walk on [the trails], as well as ride."

Lown also highlighted how attracting more cyclists to the trail would help the small communities along it.

"People have seen what the High Trestle Trail has done for Madrid and Woodward and Slater," Lown said. "This will have the same kind of economic effect in the small towns of Bondurant on out."




Related Sponsors

Support these BIKEIOWA Sponsors!

No comments have posted.

Leave a Comment

You must be signed in to leave a comment.