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Hiking, biking trail in Springfield to be upgraded

Thursday, March 27, 2014 | 2:52 p.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD — Twenty years after the Frisco Highline hiking and biking trail opened, supporters are discussing ways to renovate the 35-mile trail between Springfield and Bolivar.

The trail, built along former railroad tracks, is operated by Ozark Greenways through the federal rail banking program. That group's executive director, Terry Whaley, said its board recently met to discuss how to improve and preserve the track for another 20 years.

The long-range plan focuses on promoting the trail locally and regionally, with an effort to market it as a destination for bicyclists and a site for competitive biking and running events, The Springfield News-Leader reported.

"We have an obligation to past donors, volunteers and past board members that this not be a mediocre trail but make it something that will draw people from Kansas City and Arkansas and Missouri to come here and spend some time riding or running the Frisco Highline," Whaley said.

Supporters of the trail also want to place more markers noting interesting historical facts about the trail and communities that once existed there. Another possibility is establishing camping areas near Walnut Grove and Wishart trail heads for youth groups.

Volunteers are cutting down some of the trees and tangled undergrowth to open "landscape windows" at various scenic points to provide views and air movement along the trail. And a former horse trail next to the main path was recently turned into a mountain-biking path.

"There's 4.5 miles of eight miles done, but it really could be extended all the way to Bolivar and back, a distance of 70 miles," he said. "It gives mountain bikers their own trail and would allow parents to bike on the nice, flat main trail while their kids are off on the side trail doing their jackrabbit stuff."

Whaley said the 10-foot-wide main trail still is underused.

"We had about eight events on the trail in 2013, but we could handle 20 events a year without any problem," he said.

The nonprofit Ozark Greenways relies on volunteers, donations, fundraisers and grants to develop and maintain the Frisco Highline Trail. Ongoing maintenance costs about $10,000 annually, Whaley said.

The lack of funding has limited the number of fresh-water stations and restrooms on the trail. Arson fires on four bridges and damage from a heavy rainstorm in 2006 and an ice storm in 2007 also caused financial problems for the organization.

"If we could build a $500,000 fund and invest it into the market, we could use the interest to really take care of the trail," he said.

Whaley is planning a 20th anniversary celebration for June 7 — National Trails Day — and a renewed push to make the trail more widely known.

"It's a gem in the rough right now," he said.


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