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Crawford County offers trails for the “healthy-minded”

Live Well Crawford County has worked in collaboration with the Active Transportation Advisory Board and other community partners to develop healthy-living and active-transportation initiatives that would “make it easy to make the healthy choice” with the creation of several plans for walking and biking trails.  

The COVID-19 pandemic caused many to change their routines and spend more time doing healthy activities. Brad Stroud, Executive Director of Live Well Crawford County said that as COVID begins to lapse, it will be important for people to remain active.  

“The pandemic has in certain ways helped and harmed in regards to living well,” Stroud said. “There has been such a drastic change in lifestyles, with events being cancelled and youth sports either slowing down or being cancelled, that people’s schedules have been much more free to partake in physical activity in and around our communities. As Covid has started to regress and schedules return back to some sort of a normal routine, it will be important for those that took up physical activity as a way to fill the void in their schedules to remain active and committed to those healthy routines they created.” 

County commissioners from Allen, Bourbon, and Crawford counties got together last year in Fort Scott, Kansas, to unveil the “ABC Trails Active Transportation Plan.” The ABC Trails Plan is a cooperative project between Allen, Bourbon, and Crawford Counties, aimed toward the development of active transportation within all three counties. This plan is the first of its kind in Kansas. Stroud said the project will connect Allen, Bourbon, and Crawford counties with bike-trails.  

“All three commissioners signed and supported the ABC Trails project,” Stroud said. “So, what we did is we came up with paved county road routes between Iola and Pittsburg, Iola and Fort Scott, and Fort Scott and Pittsburg. At this point right now, the routes between the three counties have been identified. The ABC Trails has undergone a name change to Prairie Pathways. This name change was appropriate as it does not limit the project to only Allen, Bourbon, and Crawford counties, but opens the door to further opportunities with surrounding counties as well and can be more inclusive. We have a new logo for the Prairie Pathways, and we are going to be placing signage in the three counties along the selected routes that the ABC Trails identified.” 

Plans for the Watco Trail Extension proposed a 7.4-mile trail which would run along the abandoned Watco rail line from Quincy Street in Pittsburg to the eastern edge of Cherokee, Kansas. Another trail approximately 9.7 miles long was planned to run from Girard to Crawford State Park. The proposed route used a combination of the Second Cow Creek, the active railroad line through Farlington, and State Park property on the north side of the lake. Stroud said some of those plans have been tabled.  

“The Watco Trail between Pittsburg and Cherokee has been still for quite a while,” Stroud said. “There were some landowners that were loudly against it, and the discussion for that has come to a standstill. I don’t know that any of the land was forfeited back, and Watco has always claimed that they retain possession of all of that property. The Girard to Farlington example remains just an idea.”  

Stroud said trails are a great way to develop an active and healthy community, as well as create economic opportunities within the community. 

“There’s a lot of economic benefits to the trails,” Stroud said. “It’s attractive to people in the community, it’s attractive to people outside the community, (and) they are attractive to potential businesses that want to locate somewhere…they look at those things, cause they want to have opportunities for their (employees) to be healthy.” 

Stroud said another thing they consider is the safety of people who partake in healthy-living activities.  

“What we want out of it is a safe place for people to be able to live active and also provide safety,” Stroud said. “In town there’s not sidewalks everywhere, there’s busier streets, there’s always the threat of vehicle-traffic…especially these days, with texting and distractions in the car you know, that sort of thing. This would allow a family of four to go out and relax and ride bikes on the trail, enjoy family time together.” 

Stroud said one of the great projects currently going on and is in motion is the North Medical District Sidewalk Project. 

“This project will connect to the North Medical District and provide sidewalk access to these medical providers from Joplin Street,” Stroud said. “This is a huge project because there is currently no access via sidewalk access and there are mothers with baby strollers walking on very heavily used and very narrow streets. So, this is badly needed from a safety perspective. This project received $100K from Live Well Crawford County’s coordinating efforts with the Pathways to a Healthy Kansas grant.” 

Because of organizations like Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy, more trails are continually being developed. Cyclists seeking rail-trail races can look forward to annual events like Rush the Rails, with more popping up every year. Stroud said Crawford county has always attracted a large biking community. 

“People that ride that far, they would venture from that route to go ride a different trail,” Stroud said. “We have people come from a long ways to do those things.” 

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