Through woods and meadows, over lakes and roads, the 5-1/2-mile loop trail makes walking or biking around Fairfield a most enjoyable experience. Here the trail crossses the Pleasant Lake spillway. (photos by Jeff Fitz-Randolph)
After a 14-year odyssey, a journey marked by grace and perseverance, the Fairfield Loop Trail has been successfully completed, and—even better—wholeheartedly embraced by health- and recreation-minded citizens who use the trail an average of 200 times per day!
The Loop Trail encircles Fairfield, connecting most of the major green areas in the county, while pleasantly meandering past fields, prairie, lakes, historical settings, public art installations, a community orchard, and soccer fields, with a junction to the county’s extensive trail system.
The trail winds through the pine woods in Waterworks Park.
How did the journey begin? The Jefferson County Conservation Board (JCCB) realized that the trails in their main park were their most heavily used asset; every day of the year, people of all age and economic groups utilized the trails. Realizing the need for expansion, interested citizens hosted a public meeting and the Jefferson County Trails Council (JCTC) was born.
The Trails Council conceived the Loop Trail concept, a somewhat bold and audacious plan for a rural community. Timing (and a bit of luck) was everything.
Here the Fairfield Loop Trail passes a popular fishing spot.
Back in the late ’90s, the JCTC was able to partner with the Iowa Department of Transportation in such a manner that 5-1/2 miles of the Loop Trail would be built alongside the Highway 34 bypass. Instant credibility. Crafting a northern route by obtaining easements from private landowners was a herculean task, requiring great patience. But if one door closed, another seemed to open.
Ron Meyers of the JCCB inspired the initial trail expansion. Ron Blair, chair of the JCTC over 12 years, was the ever-present guiding force that facilitated trail funding and all construction. Kent Rice, local engineer and JCTC member, provided ongoing technical support.
In addition to a core group of JCTC members, volunteers ranged from professional contractors, landscapers, and artists, to housewives and young adults. It seemed that everyone chipped in at one time or another. A crack bridge-building crew evolved over a decade of volunteerism.
Hikers can rest in the charming gazebo near Bonnifield Lake.
The JCTC won four National Endowment for the Arts grants and hired local artist Judy Bales to integrate public art into the Loop Trail. Five grad students from the University of Iowa’s College of Urban Planning devised an inner city walkway/bikeway plan that also serves as spokes to the Loop Trail. Local high school art students designed signs for the bikeway/walkway project as well as tiles for an NEA project on a main bridge over the BNSF tracks.
Public and private donations came in steadily. Local businesses made multi-year pledges. Local media constantly alerted the community about ongoing progress. Letters to the editor lauded the Loop Trail.
The tale is at an end, the Loop Trail completed. The city and county have kept their promise to do the required maintenance on the trail. A second-generation Trails Council is in the offing––a group dedicated to enhancing and expanding the trail experience through events, art, the web, education, and community-involvement.
Viva la Loop Trail!
You can find more information and lots of pictures at www.jeffersoncountytrails.org.