A bold plan is being proposed to create a nationwide biking and hiking trail from Washington D.C. to Washington state that would also cut a path through the heart of Iowa.

Lisa Hein, senior director of conservation programs for the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, says the route across Iowa would encompass 465 miles of trail from Council Bluffs to Davenport. Already, 246 miles are complete, but don’t pump up your bike tires in anticipation just yet.

“In Iowa, trails have to apply for competitive grant funding and in the State Recreational Trails Fund there’s a million dollars,” Hein says. “That might do three miles of trail. At that rate, it’s going to take a few years but folks are plugging away at it.” Many of the trails in Iowa are existing, but creating the links between them would be a long process. Still, the concept of a 37-hundred mile coast-to-coast trail of this sort is staggering — and alluring.

“There’s a lot of interest and support across the country because it’s not just for bicycling,” Hein says. “People can get out and walk and run. These trails are really linear parks. Being able to connect across the country is pretty exciting from a transportation as well as recreation and tourism standpoints.” Many segments of the proposed Great American Rail-Trail are to be built on former railroad beds, but it takes time to acquire other connecting tracts of the land, clear it, grade it and build the trails.

“I’m optimistic that the interest and action and implementation of this will just continue to grow, especially as big visions like this are put forth by national organizations,” Hein says. “Iowa can be a very important piece to the entire puzzle.” Current Iowa trails that would be incorporated under the plan include: Cedar Valley Nature Trail, High Trestle Trail, Raccoon River Valley Trail, the Heart of Iowa Trail and the T-Bone Trail. It will likely be several years before a truly statewide bicycle trail exists in Iowa, reaching from the Missouri River to the Mississippi.

“I don’t know that we have really put a timeframe on it at this point,” Hein says. “This whole concept was just launched this spring. Folks are still getting a handle on it and working on how this vision could be implemented in Iowa.” Learn more about the proposal at the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation website: http://www.inhf.org/blog/blog/the-great-american-railtrail/

Here’s a full list of the Iowa trails that would be incorporated in the effort:
• Government/Arsenal Bridge
• Mississippi River Trail/Riverfront Trail
• Running River Trail System
• Kent Stein to Deep Lakes Park Trail
• Hoover Nature Trail
• Cedar Valley Nature Trail
• Gilbert Drive Trail
• Evansdale Nature Trail
• River Forest Road Trail/Cedar River Levee Trail
• Cedar Valley Lakes Trail
• South Riverside Trail
• Cedar Prairie Trail
• Sergeant Road Trail
• Pioneer Trail
• Iowa River Trail
• Linn Creek Recreational Trail
• Iowa 330/US 30 Trail
• Heart of Iowa Nature Trail
• High Trestle Trail
• Raccoon River Valley Trail
• T-Bone Trail
• Railroad Highway Trail
• Valley View Trail
• Lake Manawa Trail
• Veterans Memorial Trail
• Western Historic Trails Center Link
• Iowa Riverfront Trail
• Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge