GERING — Local officials are still waiting to hear from the federal government on a proposed biking/hiking pathway that would run from Legacy of the Plains Museum to Scotts Bluff National Monument.
Gering City Engineer Annie Folck said the original grant application to the Federal Highway Administration dates back to 2013. The funding is under the agency’s Federal Lands Access Program with the goal of making it easier for people to access federal lands like the monument.
The original project budget submitted with the grant application was $750,000 in 2015 dollars. The grant itself would be for $500,000 with the remainder provided by Gering and Scotts Bluff County through in-kind services and labor.
“The grant application called for a pathway from Legacy of the Plains Museum west to the Scotts Bluff National Monument,” Folck said. “It also included leg that goes north to connect with the Gering Pathway at U Street.”
After submitting the application, Gering started looking into the details and expenses involved in building some of the crossings that would be needed to extend the pathway north to U Street.
“We let the Federal Highway Administration know our priority was to get the museum and the monument connected,” Folck said. “It’s a critical link for visitors and even for residents who walk or bike up to the monument. That’s a concern for pedestrian and biking traffic because the highway speed limit there is 45 mph.”
Dan Morford, Superintendent of Scotts Bluff National Monument, has been offering his support for getting the pathway built. He said it will serve two purposes: to give pedestrians and cyclists a way to get to the monument from town, and to provide a shoulder along the highway.
“Right now there’s zero shoulder width along the highway,” Morford said. “Traffic often includes RVs, cattle trucks and other heavy vehicles. I’ve ridden it a few times and it’s not a safe situation.”
He’s also supportive of the overall plan to extend the pathway to the Gering Pathway to the north, which is part of the Monument Valley Pathways system that connects the entire community with biking and hiking paths.
Folck said the city would love to complete both sections of the pathway at the same time, but it all depends on the cost. The city still has to hear back from the Highway Administration, which designs its own projects to assure that alignments and crossings meet all federal regulations.
Agency representatives visited the area about two months ago, walked the proposed pathway route and took some measurements.
“They wanted to make sure that before we go farther, our assumptions about the cost could be done within the budget we proposed,” Folck said. “They told us they were also working on a couple of other projects, but would get back to us by the end of summer.”
The federal funds appropriated for the project are for the 2021 fiscal year, so work on the pathway couldn’t start until then.
Several concerns over the pathway will need to be addressed. One is the historical significance because the route is on the Oregon Trail, which dates back to the mid-1800s.
“The pathway will be on federal land, so we have to watch for all the environmental issues,” Folck said. “The monument is also concerned about their view shed so the view of the area will remain as it was in the 1800s.”
Physical concerns also come into play. The topography of the area has a number of steep draws and badlands areas of highly erodible soils that will present a challenge to building a pathway.
But for now, Gering and monument personnel will wait to hear from representatives with the National Highway Administration.
“The agency has new program managers, so Annie and I met with them when they came out,” Morford said. “They’re doing some designing and looking at costs now, so we’re excited about the idea of being able to get a pedestrian and bike path at least to the monument. It will be a safer environment for everyone.”