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Schools at the Heart of Communities: Students, community will travel on Ash Creek Trail

A Trail for Two Cities: Monmouth/Independence

Ash Creek Trail - begun 2006

Four-mile trail will eventually connect five public schools, Western Oregon University and four parks.

Need:
  • High percentage of students walk or bike along unsafe routes.
  • Traffic jams around schools.
Challenges:
  • Route crosses highway, borders residential property.
  • Funding
Solutions:
  • Cooperative model with school district, two towns, the university and the county.

Ash Creek Trail, a four-mile people-friendly link between the fast-growing communities of Monmouth and Independence, will one day provide students from five public schools and Western Oregon University with a safer route to class.

It also will offer better access for members of the two communities to parks, shops and neighborhoods, with some recreational and learning opportunities along the way.

The pedestrian path and bikeway was a goal for years for many residents. Now it’s beginning to move from vision to reality, thanks to joint planning among the city governments, schools and communities.

“We are not islands,” said Monmouth Mayor Larry Dalton, about the relationship among the two towns, Central School District and WOU. “We depend on one another.”

The first 500 feet of the four-mile trail was completed last summer near Talmadge Middle School in Independence. A teen construction crew, part of Polk County’s Help Achieving Lifelong Objectives (funded by the federal Workforce Investment Act), worked on the site, which was prepped by city workers.

The trail on the Independence side should be completed in October 2007. But the trail’s route through Monmouth entails some difficult challenges that have slowed progress, according to Craig Johns, the city’s public works director.

The original design led the trail across Highway 99 near Monmouth and through a wastewater treatment facility and there were worries about flooding and erosion.

“A few people who own property abutting the proposed trail feel it may bring undesirable people close to their property. But study after study indicates that trails are self-policed by users, and there is very little crime and litter,” according to Greg Ellis, Independence city manager.

Options, including a new traffic signal and an over- or underpass, are being studied, and some property-line issues are yet to be resolved. The timeline for Monmouth’s part of the trail has not been finalized.

To develop a master plan for the Ash Creek Trail, the cities obtained a grant through the Transportation and Growth Management program, a partnership of the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development.

“The master plan was a joint project, but construction of the trail in each city will be planned, financed and constructed by the cities individually,” Ellis said. “The funding currently comes from our urban renewal district, but we will be applying for several grants.”

Those grant applications will include ODOT’s Bicycle-Pedestrian Grant Program and its new Safe Routes to School grant program.

“There are so few east-west routes in this area, the communities really needed this,” said Sue Geniesse, ODOT planner. “The trail is a true alternative to taking your car out.”

Already, 30-40 percent of the kids walk or bike to school on streets and on the highway. “The trail will get those kids onto a much safer route,” said Geniesse.

Ellis foresees fewer students being driven to school once the trail is complete in Independence. When kids can walk or bike down the trail, the traffic jam around schools, which Ellis calls “a transportation nightmare,” may end.

Independence formed a citizen advisory committee, including teachers and the superintendent, to plan the trail. Long-range plans include ideas for environmental and ecosystem education for students. The education component may pay off by making Ash Creek a cleaner tributary to the Willamette River.

Representatives from the Public Works Department, planning commission, WOU, Central, and local citizens are involved.

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