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Dubuque County Conservation’s completed long-term master plan includes paving a 10-foot strip for the full length of Heritage Trail.

It would be part of a $9 million project on the heavily used trail that stretches from Dubuque to Dyersville. County supervisors are expected to vote on the proposed master plan later this month.

This big change for the trail is a cornerstone of the plan. But at 26 miles, the project will take a significant investment in both time and money.

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“It’s a priority project,” said conservation board Executive Director Brian Preston. “But it’s a huge project, with a lot of moving pieces. It’s going to take time to even get all that funding and design put together.”

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“Based on what we learned through the survey, more people would like to see the trail paved than not,” said Ryan Peterson, of RDG. “So, to meet our vision of a trail system for all ages and abilities and to reduce maintenance, we propose to pave the length of the trail.”

However, Peterson said there was a great deal of love for the current chipped lime as well, so they found some middle ground. The plan calls for a 10-foot-wide, asphalt, paved path, bordered by 3-foot crushed lime shoulders on each side.

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The expected added traffic on the Heritage Trail and the planning team’s vision of it as a tourist attraction overflow the trail’s physical barriers. The conservation master plan also includes expanding and adding to parking lots, trailheads and side trails all along its length. Campsites at several points along its path and a planned sister water trail for kayaking on the Little Maquoketa River, which winds beside the Heritage Trail for much of its length, are also planned.

The ongoing pandemic also highlighted some needs in access to the county’s parks and trails, which led to some interesting ideas included in the plan.

“With COVID coming on, it became clear that access to the park system was critical, so those people within their homes could have someplace to go,” Peterson said.

So, the team included plans to connect the greater system to future, and if possible existing, rural housing developments with natural trails.

“You’ll see, you’re still able to get the same amounts of lots and economic return, but it is more conducive to physical well-being, emotional well-being,” Peterson said.

That would obviously require the cooperation and interest of property owners. So, too, would a plan to acquire the land currently separating Swiss Valley Nature Preserve and Swiss Valley Park. If not an acquisition, Peterson said, they received signs of a lot of interest in those being connected at least by a trail.

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All told, these changes and projects come to a $66 million price tag.

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The projects are all prioritized and spread out across the 20 years, at a tune of about $3.3 million per year. The team guessed that the county would be on the hook for 55% of the total investment.

County Supervisor Ann McDonough lauded the plan but winced a bit at the price tag.

“I look forward to being a few years down the road on this because the initial lift to get it going is going to be tough,” she said. “Tough, but not impossible.”


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