People gathered Thursday under the pavilion at Jay Dixon Station to learn and talk about the first phase of the 1.1-mile Perche Creek Trail.

The 10-foot-wide concrete trail, if approved, will stretch from the MKT Trail to Gillespie Bridge Road and will cost an estimated $1.2 million to build.

The proposed construction and alignment of the trail and bridge will help complete the planned 30-mile loop around Columbia. The first phase of the Perche Creek Trail has not yet been approved, but it is on the list of projects to be funded by the city’s park sales tax.

Parks and Recreation planner Janet Godon said that if the trail is approved, construction would be scheduled to start late next spring. It’s anticipated to be complete and open to the public by late fall of 2021.

Engineering and operations manager Erin Keys of the city’s sewer utility said the city-owned property next to the trail will be developed as a mitigation bank. Keys said when wetlands are disrupted by development, new wetlands must be created, or departments can buy credits.

Keysalso said the sewer utility plans to use proceeds from the credits to develop a wetland and riparian area adjacent to the trail.

Ted Farnen, a Fifth Ward representative on the Parks and Recreation Commission, said he heard no opposition to the trail at the meeting.

Resident Dean Hargett is eager to see it. “I have been waiting for the 30-mile loop for years,” he said.

Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas expressed his excitement about continuing progress on the 30-mile trail loop. Thomas called Columbia trails “a real asset to the community, especially in these pandemic times.”

Some people in Columbia believe the trails uplift the city and community by improving quality of life, connecting people to nature and even enticing companies to bring jobs to town, transportation advocate Lawrence Simonson said.

“The Columbia trail systems are the most beautiful trails I’ve seen in my work,” Simonson said. “You feel like you have left the city.”

Will Green, 60, said he rides his bicycle weekly on Columbia trails with a Facebook group named Two Wheel Tuesday.

“If we can make (the trails) into a loop, it’ll be more fun so we don’t have to see the same thing twice,” Green said.

Thomas said the design of the bridge will not be decided until after it’s approved by the City Council.

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