By JOSH NEWTON
More than $1 million of the city’s new capital-improvements bond issue is earmarked for greenbelt development, including construction of a walking, jogging and bicycling trail that many Tahlequah residents have been asking for.
The new trail will follow the west bank of Town Branch Creek, starting at Norris Park and continuing to what is currently home of the city’s solid waste transfer station off of Basin Avenue, south of Fourth Street.
Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols said the 12-foot-wide, multi-use trail will be made of concrete.
“There is a small section of the trail that already exists – the Tahlequah History Trail, which runs from Northeastern State University’s campus down to the skate park,” said Nichols. “With the capital improvements funding, we’re going to lengthen the trail.”
Nichols said construction of the extended trail is expected to cost around $300,000. Security features and other facility construction along the route account for much of the remaining costs.
“We’re going to put in security cameras and an emergency phone system,” said Nichols.
Money is also set aside for parking lots and trail heads along the path. Nichols said the parking lot locations are “very tentative” at this point, but could be located near Morgan Street property the city recently purchased, on the north end of the trail; on Guinn Avenue, somewhere near the halfway point of the future trail; and on the south end, where the city’s transfer station is currently operating.
Once the city’s new transfer station opens – which is expected to occur in September – the city will begin the process of cleaning up the old site to fit in with the new greenbelt development.
“It’s an expensive undertaking [to clean up the old site] and it will require a lot of regulatory work as well,” said Nichols. “But we’re hoping to have a large portion of this trail project done for use next spring and summer. Part of the reason we’re dragging our feet on this particular project, at this point, is that the south end of the trail is contingent upon one more property acquisition.”
City officials have been acquiring land and rights-of-way along the path in recent years, giving the municipality a continuous stretch of property along the creek.
“I would say this component [of the capital-improvements project] was one of the most popular,” said Nichols.
He believes the extended trail will create a starting point for future trails, which would allow more people to walk, jog or hop on a bicycle to get to their destination.
City residents voted to support a sales tax increase last January to fund the $21 million bond issue. The increase went into effect in April. The city has received its money and is in the process of hiring contractors to begin several of the projects.
Nichols has said most, if not all, of the projects included in the bond issue should be complete within the next two years. The city’s increased sales tax collection is tentatively set to stretch out over a 15-year period, but experts have said the city could possibly pay off the bonds in as little as 10 years.
Contractors will be responsible for a large portion of the new projects, a change from the previous trend of using city employees to do the necessary construction.