FAIRMONT - The temperature cools as you enter the woods on a bright sunny day in Fairmont, the green, leafy canopy providing temporary shelter after a warm walk along the paved trail bordered by fields, meadow flowers and the shores of Amber Lake.
"Temporary" shelter is the key word.
The trail that begins at Cedar Creek Park provides a scenic path leading straight to a dead end. Coming to a halt where the sidewalk ends, my dog looks up, a quizzical expression on her face, ears jauntily perked as if to say, "What's the deal?"
Or maybe not.
More likely, I'm just reflecting a popular perception of the trail onto my innocent pooch.
For many years, there has been a sentiment among elected officials and others about how much they would like to finish that trail. Those feelings cropped up again this week.
A recent study identified five target areas - A through E, running from north to south - that could use trail improvements.
The active transportation plan being developed by Bolton & Menk engineering firm was funded by a State Health Improvement Plan grant, which in turn will enable Fairmont to apply for more grants. The idea behind the SHIP grant is to create a healthier environment by offering the public alternate ways to get around town without the use of a car - i.e., better sidewalks and trails.
"We started by looking at what's here, what are the needs and what are the funding sources," said Angie Bersaw, transportation planner with Bolton & Menk.
Using feedback from an online survey, some primary themes emerged for the city to focus on: connect residential neighborhoods to key destinations; complete loops around the lake; and provide more off-road trails.
The plan outlines $1 million in short-term priorities, in zero to 10 years; $724,000 in mid-term priorities, in 10-20 years; and $829,000 in long-term priorities, in 20-plus years. Much of the funds could come from state and federal grants.
"The survey was very telling," Bersaw said. "It was very constant what people are desiring."
Among the short-term priorities Bolton & Menk identified are:
o Creating an off-road trail on Margaret Street, from Lucia Avenue to Highway 15. The estimated cost is $149,000. The city has federal funds to reconstruct Margaret in 2017, at which time the off-road trail could be added.
o Connecting Knollwood Drive to Cedar Creek Park.
This is the trail leading to nowhere, which Mayor Randy Quiring has been pushing to see completed since he was first elected in 2008.
The project would cost an estimated $225,000, including a bridge over a creek that drains into Amber Lake.
"Completing this gap would fill a major void in the connection around Hall Lake and to adjacent resources, such as Amber Lake Park, Chain of Lakes Yacht Club, Interlaken Golf Club and the Albion Avenue trail," Bersaw noted.
o Developing an old railroad corridor to help connect Winnebago Sports Complex to the hotels, restaurants and shopping near Interstate 90. The estimated cost is $355,000, including a bridge over Center Creek. The concept could be continued by using the old railroad corridor to connect Highway 15 at Torgerson Drive, at a cost of $37,000.
"This is attractive not only for the community's use but also for the economic opportunities associated with visitors at the hotels and sports complex," Bersaw wrote in her notes.
o Adding three segments of trails around George Lake: on the northwest, from Lucia Avenue to Center Creek, at a cost of $97,000; on the west side, from Center Creek near the George Lake Dam south to Hobo Trail and the railroad, at a cost of $110,000; and the south side, from Bullhead Park to Main Street, at a cost of $28,000.
Mid-term pending projects included paving off-road trails within Cedar Creek Park, developing a Lincoln Park Trail and Ward Park Trail, and furthering the effort to connect the shopping and hotel areas near I-90 with the Winnebago Sports Complex.
Long-term projects identified were connecting Cedar Creek Park to County Road 39, making use of a railroad corridor from County Road 39 to Margaret Street, and developing a connection between Lake Aires Road to Interlaken Road on Albion Avenue.
Councilman Joe Kallemeyn was pleased with the results of the active transportation plan. Just as the plan itself was funded without local taxpayer dollars, he was confident the projects could be completed in the same way, using various grants.
"It looks like you compiled a lot of good information," Kallemeyn told Bersaw. "I want to make sure we don't just put this on the shelf.
His elected colleagues agreed.
Terry Anderson said the council was talking about trails and some of these specific projects back in the 1990s.
"I don't want to lose any more time," he said.