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Meadowlark Trail moves forward

Chad Frey
McPhersonSentinel
A runner runs on the Meadowlark Trail, a trail between McPherson and Lindsborg that has finally enough funds available to be completed.

This is an exciting time for the Meadowlark Trail, as completion of the trail moves closer and closer. 

On Jan. 25 the McPherson County Commission and McPherson City Commission met in a joint meeting to discuss one of the final pieces of the puzzle — a crossing on Old 81 with signage to connect the trail with Main Street McPherson to the trail. The city has received a Kansas Department of Transportation grant to fund the project. 

The Meadowlark Trail passes through hills and creek valleys in the 12.6 miles between Lindsborg and McPherson, on what was once a Union Pacific Railroad line  It crosses eleven bridges and, at one point, follows the east bank of the Smoky Hill River.  

This came on the heels of a 2020 that saw the infusion of new funds into the Central Kansas Conservancy that pushed the trail project forward. 

In October 2020, Board Members from the Central Kansas Conservancy announced that they were accepted as participants in the “A Community Thrives Challenge.” The challenge was a crowd-source fund-raising campaign funded by the Gannett Foundation and part of the USA TODAY NETWORK, which invests in community-building initiatives across the country.  Gannett Media is the ownership of the McPherson Sentinel. 

To receive a "A Community Thrives" grant, the organization was required  demonstrate community support through donations through a four-week fundraiser campaign launched in September and ending in the second week of October. A competitive grant, the conservancy competed in a tier of 350 other organizations.

The CKC’s goal was $7,000; however, they surpassed that goal by $9,300, bringing the total amount raised to $16,300. 

And that's not even the best news from the campaign. 

Since the CKC demonstrated a considerable amount of community support, the Gannett Foundation awarded the CKC an additionl grant of $7,500. The grant money, along with the generous donations from the trail’s supporters, totaled $23,800

The conservancy announced it put those funds the completion of  a remaining four mile stretch between two sections of Meadowlark Trail, establishing a continuous corridor between the McPherson and Lindsborg communities.

"The CKC sincerely appreciates the Gannett Corporation for the opportunity to participate in the A Community Thrives Challenge and especially the CKC supporters…the trail would not be possible without their overwhelming support through volunteerism and monetary donations," said CKC President, Michele Cullen. "If you would like to get involved or learn more about our organization and our trails, please visit our website at www.centralkansastrails.org."

 the organization has had the deed to the federal right-of-way to finish the trail since 1997.

Phase I of trail construction included developing the 4 miles from Pawnee Road to McPherson. Phase II included nearly 3 miles from Shawnee Road to Lindsborg. What’s left is Phase III, which would connect the two into a 12-mile trail.

During a court case that arose in 2018, opposition to the project e argued that the CKC has allowed the corridor to sit idle for too long.

Judge Marilyn Wilder ruled in District Court No. 9 in favor of the Central Kansas Conservancy, the developers of the trail, issuing an injunction against area property owners restricting the organization from completing the recreational trail on land vacated by a railroad.

Widler previously ruled that the Kansas Rails to Trails Act does not apply and rails-to-trails easements, which are held for public purposes, are immune from statutes of limitations.

At the time of the ruline, the conservancy had about five miles of trail to complete, and needed funds to replace a 65-foot-long, 20-foot-high bridge that burned Aug. 5, 2018, a day CKC members tried to complete the trail and were met by opposition landowners.

Work to complete the Meadowlark Trail is expected to happen this year.