story by Jamie Smith
As the Northwest Arkansas Regional Razorback Greenway continues to grow, it adds business growth opportunities and healthy options for area residents and tourists. It also adds responsibilities and potential higher costs for local cities.
The cities connected by the Razorback Greenway do not keep a separate budget for maintaining their portion of the Greenway. Instead, it’s rolled into the respective cities’ parks and recreation budgets, which includes parks and other trails that several of the cities manage besides the Greenway. City officials agree, however, that the Greenway has presented additional responsibilities and opportunities.
Each corridor city, including Rogers, Springdale, Bentonville, Lowell, Johnson and Fayetteville, was required to sign an interlocal agreement with the Walton Family Foundation that details how the trails will be cared for upon their completion. The Foundation pledged $15 million to help construct trails in the cities except for Bentonville, which is where the Foundation had already helped fund making the trail system complete and operational.
Maintaining the trails, according to the sample agreement provided by the City of Fayetteville, includes landscaping, maintenance of sidewalks and greenways, security measures and access for first responders and other emergency personnel. Fayetteville’s existing trail system was already integrated into the parks and recreation system so no new personnel was needed when the Razorback Greenway portions were connected, said Byron Humphry, parks maintenance superintendent.
“It really falls on existing trails crew,” he said.
In the coming budget process, however, the department is asking for two additional staff members to manage the city’s parks and trails.
While all the cities contacted by The City Wire said they include trails maintenance in their parks and recreation budget, Humphry did more research and provided these numbers: “From July 1, 2013 to July 1, 2014, we spent $60,830 on trail maintenance that included labor and equipment for mowing, weed-eating, sweeping, ice/snow removal, and graffiti removal. The total man hours spent was 2,867 hours.”
Just up the Interstate the trails are still in the process of being completed because of additional permitting required. The City of Springdale hopes to have its portion of the Greenway complete by the end of the year and is also expected to roll the expenses into the parks and rec budget. although exact budgetary needs, as well as potential staffing needs, are still being determined.
The city plans to hire a trails coordinator. The now have an interim coordinator hired.
“We know that position is needed and it will be filled,” said Mayor Doug Sprouse.
The city is also committed to building a trails system that complements the Greenway using money set aside for trail and sidewalk construction. The city set aside approximately $500,000 for that purpose and will work to get matching grants to grow that money, Sprouse said.
“The more trails we have, the more support for having the trails will grow,” he said of helping residents understand the value. “We need to demonstrate more about tying the trails to Springdale’s economic development. We see where it’s working (in other towns).”
Lowell is another city in the process of finishing its portion of the Razorback Greenway. The Parks Department reports to Lowell Street Department Superintendent Jimmy Hendrix. Hendrix said he would have more solid information regarding potential costs to the city in a few months when the budget process is finished and the trails are closer to completion. He is working with nearby cities who have their trails complete to better understand the costs and manpower needed, he said.
“I do anticipate having to hire more full-time staff,” he said in reference to the trails and parks.
The City of Rogers has a trails manager listed on its website and according to Barney Hayes, parks director with the City of Rogers, the trails budget is under the city’s parks department.
“We do not break out the trails expenses other than on the construction phases of the trails. As for staff, we currently have added two maintenance employees that are primarily assigned to trails-related maintenance tasks. In addition, we have added a half-time (20 hours per week) Trails Coordinator position who coordinates trails projects and public relations activities for the city.”
David Wright, parks and recreation director in Bentonville, said the city’s philosophy in placing the trails in the parks and recreation budget is that they are seen the same as parks. In other words, the trails require similar types of maintenance and provide similar recreational value. The city has a $3.5 million operational budget for the parks and recreation department. The budget and staff has grown as 12 miles of trails and six new parks have been added in six years.
“We’ve added some staff but mostly what we’ve done is hire a lot of seasonal help from a temporary staffing service but we’ve added four full-time positions to help us manage all the additional trails and parks” and not just the Razorback Greenway, Wright said.
Another aspect of maintaining the trails is providing a safe environment, according to the interlocal agreement. Sgt. Miles Mason with the Rogers Police Department said during warmer weather and when school is out, there are six bike officers throughout the week and they try to get on the trails more often and some officers have a regular shift who will ride the trails.
Sgt. Craig Stout with the Fayetteville Police Department said the department patrols the trails as much as possible using the bike and motorcycle divisions.
“Patrol officers will occasionally do foot patrols and or utility vehicles will patrol the trails whenever possible,” he said.
While the cities are responsible for maintenance and safety, it is also the responsibility of those using the trails to assist in the upkeep and safety including picking up their own trash and being mindful of safety measures.
Stout offered these tips for safety on the trails:
• Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Know your location in case of an emergency;
• Look people in the eye as you pass them. This lets others know you are aware of their presence;
• Carry a cell phone in case of emergency;
• Walk or jog in a familiar area. Avoid secluded areas where there are places to hide;
• Walk or jog with a companion, especially at night. Two or more trail users can assist each other in the event of an accident or injury, and one can always seek help;
• Wear bright-colored clothing so that you can easily be seen;
• Lock your vehicle. Don't leave valuables, such as purses/wallets/cell phones, visible inside;
• Let someone know when you begin your walk or jog. Tell them the route you will be taking and when you plan to return. Inform them when you do return; and
• Report any suspicious activity to police immediately.