Monday, April 02, 2007

Wabash Trace Trail Update

CONTACT: Bill Danforth, President, Southwest Iowa Nature Trails
Phone: 712/246-1399


After several incidents of trail abuse by horse riders, a particularly devastating event recently occurred at the Council Bluffs end of the trail. Immediately after the spring thaw, when the Trace’s crushed limestone surface was soft and most susceptible to damage, and against posted restrictions, a group of horses devastated the trail’s crushed limestone surface.

Southwest Iowa Nature Trails, Inc. (SWINT) is the non-profit organization that manages the Wabash Trace, a 63 mile trail along a discontinued railbed that extends from Council Bluffs to the Missouri border. SWINT’s volunteers have maintained a parallel bridle path within the right-of-way between Council Bluffs and Mineola. The offending horse riders ignored the existing equestrian path along with signs prohibiting horses on the limestone surface.

The parallel bridle path was originally created in the early 1990’s by caring and responsible equestrians. Those volunteers have since moved from the area and no others stepped forward to take their place. The bridle path suffered years of neglect. Maintenance of the horse path has been re-adopted in the last few years by off-road bicyclists and no horse riders have volunteered or taken any responsibility for bridle path maintenance or control.

Because of the recent incident of severe trail damage, numerous Trace volunteers have had to take vacation time from work to try to repair the damage. Multiple passes by graders and smoothers have only reduced the destruction. It has been called the worst case of vandalism ever to be inflicted upon the 18 year old trail and created a deeply cratered disaster area in the most used section of trail surface. It has also caused a threat to the safety of cyclists using that section.

As a result, SWINT Board of Directors voted unanimously to prohibit horses from the entire length of the Wabash Trace Nature Trail. Horses have always been prohibited south of Mineola. SWINT has also decided to spend over a thousand dollars of its limited budget to purchase a new piece of equipment to help smooth the surface. Signs reflecting the prohibition of horses on the Trace are currently being posted.

This prohibition may be reconsidered if an equestrian group would volunteer to help maintain the bridle path and enforce restriction of horse use within the corridor. However, those volunteer horse riders must show commitment with manpower to maintain the trail, and hold themselves and all horse riders accountable to good stewardship of the Trace, before the prohibition is fully lifted.

If anyone has any information on who caused the vandalism, please contact the Pottawattamie County Sheriff’s Office at 712/328-4780.

If trail users observe horses on the right-of-way, inform the riders that horses are prohibited from the Wabash Trace and that it is especially important that they not ride on the crushed limestone surface. If they do not leave immediately, or continue on the trail surface, contact the county sheriff’s office.

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