Rail-to-trail proposed for rural southeast South Dakota
Advocates say a new rail-to-trail project could improve recreational opportunities, public health and the economy in rural southeast South Dakota.
"Cyclists continuously look for new trails to ride," said Robert Foley, secretary of Friends of the Tabor to Platte Rail to Trail. "Would this help diversify this area into more ecotourism?"
The state railroad board and authority will hear an update about the plans during a Wednesday public meeting.
The nonprofit will later ask the agencies for permission to convert a 75-mile portion of the old Napa-to-Platte line to a trail for cyclists, hikers and horseback riders.
"It goes through the western Prairie Coteau area along the east bank of the Missouri River in Bon Homme and Charles Mix counties. So it's rolling countryside," Foley said.
The trail would cross waterways and trestle bridges as it passes through agricultural land and small towns. Users could stop for gas, food and shopping at the trailheads in Platte, Ravinia, Lake Andes and Geddes.
The group eventually wants to create a 358-mile regional trail network through southeast South Dakota and northeast Nebraska, Foley said. The route would use the rail-trail and existing roads and trails as it passes through rural towns, tribal communities and state parks.
South Dakota already has a well known rail-to-trail project, the Mickelson Trail, that winds through the Black Hills.
The 83-mile Napa-to-Platte rail line was built in the early 1900s and operated by the Milwaukee Road. South Dakota purchased the line in 1980 after the company went bankrupt.
Dakota Southern Railway leases the section from Napa to Tyndall and would like to keep doing so, Foley said. He said the section is mostly used for storing rail cars.
Beyond that, there's been little activity on the line, Foley said. In 2007, the state reserved another section for a possible rail-to-trail.
The friends group would be responsible for building, funding, insuring and maintaining the trail. It's already raising money and hopes to apply for a $2 million federal grant.
The nonprofit has been holding community meetings where some landowners expressed concerns about the trail going through their land, Foley said.
The initiative has the support of some local towns, the Yankton Sioux Tribe and the Nebraska Department of Transportation.
The group would also need approval from Gov. Kristi Noem and the federal Surface Transportation Board.