‘Crown jewel’ of Kansas trails among $16.8M investment in alternative transportation projects

A new investment in alternative transportation projects includes funding for the Flint Hills Trail, which spans 117 miles between Herington and Osawatomie. (Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism)

TOPEKA — Kansas officials on Thursday announced plans to fix a gap in the Flint Hills Trail near Ottawa to avoid a two-mile detour around active railroad tracks and overgrown brush.

The project is expected to boost tourism in downtown Ottawa as the launch point for rides along two trails that intersect there, as well as communities along the trails.

Described by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism as the “crown jewel of Kansas trails,” the Flint Hills Trail extends 117 miles from Herrington, in Dickinson County, to Osawatomie, on the south edge of the Kansas City metro area in in Miami County. Portions of the trail follow the Marais Des Cygnes River, offering views of rushing waters, towering bluffs, rolling farmland, and riparian woods.

The Flint Hills Trail connects with the Prairie Spirit Trail in Ottawa, which follows a former rail bed for 51 miles south to Iola.

“Everybody benefits from these trails, and most importantly, all of Kansas, and all of the people that want to come and visit our great state, benefit also — to recognize the beauty that we have, and the people that we have, that make Kansas what we are,” said KDWPT secretary Brad Loveless.

Loveless joined Gov. Laura Kelly and Julie Lorenz, secretary of the Kansa Department of Transportation, in the announcement Thursday in Ottawa. The trail connection is part among 18 new “alternative” projects made available through the state’s long-term transportation program. Instead of highway repairs, these projects focus on thinks like sidewalks, restoration of historic train depots and beautifying main streets.

“They all make the community better in some way,” Lorenz said.

Collectively, the 18 projects represent a $16.8 million investment in federal, state and local funds. About $13.5 million of those dollars come through federal grants. That includes $5.6 million for the Flint Hills Trail project.

Other projects are slated for Baldwin, Columbus, Council Grove, Eudora, Junction City, Lawrence, Lecompton, Manhattan, Neodesha, Pottawatomie County, Salina, Shawnee County, Sterling, Strong City, Topeka, Wabaunsee County schools, and Wellington.

Before launching her political career as a state senator from Topeka, the governor spent 18 years as executive director of the Kansas Recreation and Park Association. Kelly said frequently advocated in that role for investments that make communities better places to live and attract businesses.

“The projects being awarded today will make it safer for children to walk or bike to school,” Kelly said. “They’ll add sidewalks that will allow Kansans to walk, bike or use a wheelchair to access essential services like grocery stores or healthcare clinics. They’ll expand recreational opportunities for Kansans to encourage healthier lifestyles.”