BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A $1.5 million proposed section of the P.O.R.T. trail running up 15th Street in Fort Madison to Rodeo Park is getting opposition from several homeowners in the Timberlane Drive area.
The neighborhood is in county territory so one resident took the matter up with Lee County Supervisors at the board’s regular meeting Tuesday morning.
Valerie Natoli, who lives on Timberlane Drive said several residents in the area were opposed to the 10-foot wide concrete trail that is being proposed to go up the west side of 15th Street to connect the city to Rodeo Park.
In August last year, Great River Health Systems’ Community Health Foundation made a commitment of $1.5 million to the trail project. P.O.R.T. has already built concrete trails between Bluff Road and Ivanhoe Park and west to Baxter Sport Complex.
Future plans include the extension to Rodeo Park and a west trail from 48th Street to Fort Madison Community Hospital as well as widened path on 48th Street from the sports complex to Bluff Road on the west side.
Natoli told the board many issues are of concern to the residents including safety, maintenance and vandalism. She said the board should consider other options before approving plans for the new section of the trail.
“Traffic is heavy there and there are heavy duty vehicles using that road,” Natoli said. “If you give the right of way to the city, do they have rights to that path? I just don’t think it’s a good idea for that area and many of the residents up here are opposed to it coming through this area.”
Natoli said she was also concerned that Fort Madison’s ATV ordinance couldn’t prohibit those vehicles from using that path.
Nancy Booten, another resident living on Timberlane agreed that the trail would prove to be unsafe and could lead to additional trash in the area.
“I’m going to agree with Valerie, I don’t think this is safe. Cars are going off their all the time. A lot of trash is accumulating in that area already, but my biggest concern is the safety.”
Rachel Benda, who chairs the P.O.R.T. committee said she understands the concerns brought up, but said the entities need to work together because losing the donation to P.O.R.T. would be a big loss to the city.
“I just urge you to work with foundation and their large donation. I can tell you how hard it is to raise the little money we have for this project,” Benda said.
Jenny Steffensmeier of Steffensmeier Welding and Manufacturing also sits on the P.O.R.T. committee and echoed Benda’s concerns.
“I’d hate to see a $1.5 million donation to Fort Madison go away and I concur with Rachel on the hard work the committee has put forth,” Steffensmeier said.
“Hopefully we’ll all continue to be informed and move forward for the better of the county and the community.”
Natoli also read a letter from Frank and Eunice Nolte who live on Timberlane and oppose the project.
County Engineer Ben Hull said he’s been in on the planning and design of the project and said the road is one of the widest in the county and there were some maintenance issues in original plans, but he said the committee, GRHS, the city, and the county have worked well together to mitigate the issues.
He said anytime you put roads and pathways in residential areas there is a safety concern
“As far as safety it is a concern and that’s a balancing act,” Hull said. “Anywhere there are people and roads there’s going to be accidents. But we’re all working together to come up with the best design we can. The city has taken that seriously and taken some changes out per our request.”
Natoli said the people making the decisions don’t live in the neighborhood.
“Its one thing to say its a great thing. but you don’t live up here and don’t see what we see. It’s just the wrong location. Why not come up Denmark Hill. They could take it up there.
“The deal says the path must go to Rodeo Park, but it doesn’t say what direction they had to take to do it. Go back and find another place to put it.”
Board Chairman Ron Fedler said he’s received many comments on the proposed trail.
“I’ve had many calls, and I understand from people in the county especially on Timberlane Drive,” he said. “They like their privacy and if the trail had been there before it would be a different issue. I know people are passionate for and against it.”
Fedler said he’s also heard putting the trail along side of the neighborhood may encourage the city to annex all of Timberlane Drive into the city, which is something else some residents there don’t want.
Nathan Unsworth, the director of the Lee County Conservation District said people who use trails are typically healthier and more concerned with keeping the trail clean and maintained.
“I give the PORT group a lot of credit for work they’ve done for trails in Fort Madison,” Unsworth said.
“One thing about trails, and I was just on a trail this weekend – there was no trash. Bikers that are out exercising, they don’t want to carry extra things. They’re not dumping trash on trails, of course you have the bad actors, but most people want to continue to use those and do their part to keep those areas clean and safe.”