On the evening of Sept. 12, Story County Conservation representatives gathered at the Heart of Iowa Nature Trail’s trailhead in Slater to celebrate major work being completed.


This summer, the Heart of Iowa Nature Trail from Slater to Huxley, excluding a quarter-mile stretch of gravel road connecting the trail to the E63 bike lanes, was paved. Officials said the Story County Secondary Roads Department plans to pave that section of gravel road in the coming year.


“You have to be a little bit stubborn…and a little bit tenacious to get a trail project to go through,” said Ryan Wiemold, Story County Conservation Parks Superintendent, who was the first of two to speak before a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on the trail.


Wiemold and Pat Shehan, Story County Conservation’s special projects ranger, shared the story of how long it takes and how much work goes into putting a great trail system in place. “We couldn’t be here today without a lot of heavy lifting that’s gone on through the years,” Wiemold said. That “heavy lifting” goes back to the days of previous Conservation employees and directors, like Steve Lekwa, who was present at this celebration, along with years of laying the groundwork with the railroad and other property owners to gain easements for the land.


The Heart of Iowa Nature Trail has been a limestone trail since it was first put in all the way across the southern portion of Story County, from Slater to Collins. The trail also extends into Marshall County all the way to Melbourne.


Improving the trail’s surface to pavement has been a goal for Story County for many years.


Shehan told of how a meeting, held in 2017 with leaders from the Story County communities that the trail goes through, congealed the current trail improvement efforts. “We wanted to get people’s expectations … (and find out) what they wanted out of this trail,” he said.


Story County Conservation enlisted the services of the engineering firm, Synder & Associates, to develop a master plan, and then the county started looking into funding resources. They applied for and received first a $200,000 grant from CIRTPA (Central Iowa Regional Transportation Planning Alliance) and then they applied for and received a $300,000 grant from the State Recreational Trails Program. This greatly helped to reduce the amount of the total project cost — $710,000 — that Story County had to come up with and made the paving possible this year, with construction starting in June.


Shehan said, as he stood near the trail last week, that “pretty much everything (except the gravel road paving) is done, except for some seeding along the trail.” He also indicated that the cities of Huxley and Slater have been great partners in the project, and Huxley leaders plan to pave the unpaved, in-town parts of the trail so that it will be paved all the way to the east side of Huxley.


Shehan said Conservation leaders are now focused on phase two of the Heart of Iowa paving project, which will be to pave east out of Huxley to the Skunk River bridge in Cambridge.


In gaining funding for the second phase of this project, Shehan said Story County Conservation has pulled out its original playbook and has once again secured grant funds from CIRTPA and the State Recreational Trails Program for $730,000.


“It’s been a long road … and we’re very excited with the progress we’ve made,” Shehan said.


Thanks were extended to all those who have made this trail work possible, including volunteer trails advisory committee members, the cities along the Heart of Iowa Trail, the Story County Board of Supervisors, Story County Secondary Roads Department, members of the Story County Conservation Board and Story County Conservation staff.