You can hear the excitement in the voice of Auburn resident Jane Barto when she talks about all that’s been happening in her community lately.
First is Auburn’s annual raffle held recently to raise funds for the local library and museum. She and her cohorts rounded up more than 65 prizes from area businesses, ranging from two half hogs, a green mountain grill, a metal four-chair set and a Templeton Rye barrel to a ribeye steak package, a bike, eight yards of concrete, 16 tons of limestone rock and multiple gift cards.
Despite COVID-19 and a seven-month delay in holding the raffle, the event raised more than $10,000 to fund programming and improvements for both organizations. The list of prize winners is on the Auburn Public Library and the Auburn Historical Museum’s Facebook pages.
But what really gets the local folks fired up is the progress that’s been made on the Grant Park Trail. Now more than two-thirds complete, the 1.5-mile biking and hiking trail will connect the town of Auburn with Sac County’s Grant Park.
Anything urging people to get outdoors and stay healthy during the pandemic is being eagerly considered by state agencies these days. That’s evidenced by the $50,000 grant the trail recently received from the State of Iowa DNR to fund the Butterfly Sanctuary stop along the route.
While much of the funding has been done through grants and donations, the key has been the support of Auburn farm families, including the Sturms, Renzes and Tiefenthalers, who have granted easements to their property along the trail route.
Equally helpful has been the amount of construction donated by area contractors, including a large amount of the concrete from the Mohr family.
The Diocese of Sioux City cooperated, too, by approving the route through the Auburn Cemetery. And the Sac County Conservation Board — which supported the trail from the outset — agreed to regulate and maintain it once it’s completed.
TRAIL FEATURES 'LEARNING STATIONS'
“Hiking trails are becoming hugely popular across Iowa,” Barto said, “and this one will likely become a destination point for health and nature enthusiasts, not only for its hilly challenge, but what people can see and learn along the way.”
She explained why: “When finished — the goal is next June — the trail will track north of Auburn along cornfields, then wind through a heavily wooded stretch that leads to the park entrance.
“Grant Park is a 98-acre river valley recreational area so pretty it was featured on the cover of Our Iowa magazine a few years ago.”
The trail is a hard-surfaced pathway 10 feet wide, specially designed for multiple activities like hiking, running, biking and cross-country skiing.
By next spring, there will be a 30-house Bluebird Trail ready for inhabitants. The houses, construction and care will be managed by the local Gorman family.
“What will make our trail unique is the ‘learning stations’ along the way,” Barto said. “These rest stops will describe the history and culture of the area’s first inhabitants, as well as the geology, plants and animals native to the region.
“The largest of these stations will be the Butterfly Sanctuary. We’ll be starting up our own monarch-reporting project, which will include tagging and tracking monarch migrations.
“This trail’s a ‘natural adventure’ as it curves through the timber, along the hillside, then opens out at the park entrance. From there, the imposing expanse of the North Raccoon River Valley below suddenly comes into view.
“Whether you start the trail at Grant Park, with its spectacular views, or begin your adventure at the trailhead, these 1.5 miles of nature’s best theater will put a smile on your face and sweat on your brow.”
TRAILHEAD IS AN EYE-CATCHER
The attention-getter to all this is the Trailhead Plaza at the entrance, which is right off Highway 71 on the north edge of Auburn. It includes a cobblestone courtyard with plantings, benches and kiosks, highlighted by a 26-foot-high steel sculpture of two oak trees.
What makes these metal trees special for Auburnnites is they were created by the town blacksmith, Tanner King. This young, talented metalsmith also created the “Cattail Cove” in Sac City, as well as other metal sculptures across Iowa.
These trees surely will catch the eye of drivers of the 7,500 vehicles — by DOT estimates — that pass this busy corner daily.
“Now you can see why we Auburn folks are excited about completing this trail next summer,” Barto said. “We’ve been planning and working on this for 10 years.”