With a new effort called 'UnGap the Map,' Springfield hopes to double its regional greenway trail system
Our Sense of Community series on the City of Springfield's comprehensive plan, Forward SGF, looks at some of the goals identified within the plan's five core elements. This episode explores efforts by Ozark Greenways to massively expand its trail network.
It's mid-March in downtown Springfield.
“Good to go?" I asked Mary Kromrey, director of Ozark Greenways trail network. "Good to go. You could see me lollygagging looking at the beautiful sky and sunlight here."
“Oh it’s so gorgeous out," Kromrey replied. "So gorgeous.”
Kromrey and I were driving from Ozark Greenway's office near City Hall to a site in west-central Springfield where the nonprofit intends to add a new trail. It’s just one of many areas throughout the city and region where Ozark Greenways wants to add new trailway.
“You know, look at the Frisco Highline trail," Kromrey said. "It's 35 miles long now. So then we're starting to see like, ‘Oh, I could actually use this to get somewhere that I want to go, I mean, absolutely you can use it to exercise, you can use it to catch a breath of fresh air and enjoy the sunshine or the spring flowers. But oh, my kids could use this to walk to school.”
“Like that's a goal," I replied. "To be kind of a multimodal transport component.”
“Absolutely," Kromrey said. "And so what's really fascinating to watch is our roads and our streets and our bridges and our freeways and our interstates all work together right in there. That's just one component though of a robust transportation network. So then how do we integrate in trails and bicycle lanes, sidewalks and transit, so that we have this truly robust system that can work for all ages and abilities, and not just for folks that are driving cars?”
These ideas aren’t new, though support for them has changed significantly over time.
In 1983, the federal government passed a law nicknamed the Rails to Trails Act. It allowed American communities to turn disused railroad lines into nature trails.
Seven years later, as the first Persian Gulf War and a bad national recession topped the news, Springfield City Council held a planning session. They put two priorities at the bottom of the heap: building a minor-league baseball stadium and funding for what was then called the South Creek Greenway.
But in 1991, a groundbreaking was held for a short trail — the beginning of a plan to connect parks in south Springfield with the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.
Later, Ozark Greenways made a big move: Acquiring more than 30 old rail miles between Willard and Bolivar — the same trail Kromrey was just talking about, Frisco Highline. At the time, there was opposition: Some rural folks worried trails would bring 24-hour traffic, crime, and parties, according to a 1994 story in the Springfield News-Leader.
Today, Springfield’s new comprehensive plan — Forward SGF — places an effort called “UnGap the Map” at the center of the city’s ambitions.
While riding in Kromrey's car, we continued our conversation. I said, “So we're on our way to a stretch of proposed Ozark Greenway trail off of Mount Vernon Street.”
“Correct,” Kromrey answered.
“And so my understanding, Mary, is that when we talk about this 'UnGap the Map’ idea that's in the city's new comprehensive plan, that 'UnGap the Map’ is one of the top 10 items, and that it basically calls for taking a trail network that's 70-odd miles now — and getting it to 140 miles in the city of Springfield.”
Kromrey said, “You're right. And so what's so awesome, is that Forward SGF is really focusing on this regional trail system and the portion of it that's in Springfield — but you know, it's regional. And it's over 200 miles of proposed trails in the system that will connect our entire region by trail. And so it's super-exciting, and validating and rewarding, and also intimidating to have it included as a top 10 item for here for our work in Springfield, Missouri. But I'm just thrilled to see it. Residents have indicated trails and parks and green spaces as a priority for many years.”
Jordan Creek Greenway is just one of many trails Ozark Greenways plans to 'UnGap'
After wending our way through car congestion on two of Springfield’s major expressways, we arrived at our destination.
As we exited Kromrey's vehicle, I asked, “So this little body of water here that is running under that Mount Vernon Street Bridge — What have we got here?” […]
Kromrey said, “That is where the Jordan Creek Greenway trail — when they built the bridge, they agreed to build the trail underneath the bridge, since they were already deployed in the creek, to minimize future impacts. Okay, so and then that's also where the right of way ends. […]
I said, “So they built, like, this concrete shelf, that's the future path. Yes. And then ultimately, kind of below our feet here, where it's rocky and sort of what we might say is the shore of the creek that's right away that needs acquisition.”
“That's right," Kromrey said. "And so then it will continue north. And we hope to cross under Kansas Expressway utilizing a MODOT airspace agreement. And then we'll you need to pick up some right-of-way for some from additional landowners, and then we will cross the creek again, with the Walnut Street Bridge.”
Along with those landowners who currently own right-of-way, Ozark Greenways intends to work with city and county government to complete its vision of a trail-networked Springfield.