Coulee River Trails Consortium takes shape
PRESCOTT — Israel Haas, the executive director of the Great River Road Visitor & Learning Center, enthusiastically addressed the Prescott School Board on Wednesday, April 21 about Coulee River Trails Consortium and Partnership.
CRT is a multi-agency, public-private group partnering for recreation, education and conservation via a greenway and trail network throughout Prescott. The vision connects and conserves the unique habitat and history of the Confluence Region, providing a place for recreation and exploration.
Haas made clear the proposed trail network and nature preserve is “highly tentative” as the group is still working with landowners.
The trail network would take people from Prescott School District land to the Mississippi River through Pine Coulee and potentially loop back. There could be 14-plus miles of trails made of natural materials, grass and a gravel ADA-accessible loop.
“There is noting in writing!” Haas said. “Conversations are happening.”
The idea was resurrected at a Prescott Kiwanis meeting, dusting off old city plans, Haas said.
Thanks to a $1,500 grant from the Prescott Foundation and an individual donation, the group is applying for a trail design grant from the Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance program at the National Park Service. The group is also identifying potential city, county, NPS and town of Oak Grove partners. A steering committee is being formed.
An NPS representative said in a video Haas showed that the school district’s land, which is a mixture of overgrown aspen, cedar, cherry and invasive buckthorn, was once a meadowland and a prime opportunity for restoration. A goal would be for the trail to get students into otherwise impenetrable areas for study and conservation.
What do next steps look like?
•Receive approval from the school board to proceed with trail planning.
•Form a Zone 1 (school district property) committee.
•Include a school district representative on the CRT Steering Committee and/or in the monthly partner meetings to help shape the CRT Master Plan.
•Build trails and outdoor learning environments into the school district’s long-term plans.
•Draft a memorandum of understanding.
•Design and construct trails.
“Basically, we’d like you to greenlight some conversations,” Haas said. School Board Vice President Steve Sizemore clarified that the trails would be hiking only, no ATV. The areas Haas spoke of are unbuildable or unsuitable for athletic field expansion, but ideal for trails.
Prescott is located along scenic bluffs at the confluence of two nationally-protected riverways – the Mississippi Natural River and Recreation Area and the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. Freedom Park is an official NPS partner site, official Watchable Wildlife location, and on the Audubon Great River Birding Trail. Prescott is the gateway to the Great River Road, a national scenic byway.
Despite the natural beauty and historic significance of the area, no trail system exists. The southern portion of the proposed greenway trail system features unique geological formations in Pine Coulee, such as possible stalactites from a collapsed cave, and a double water fall that flows during torrential rains and winter snow melt.
The 18-month goal is to create a master plan that is approved by all participants, including municipalities, the school district and other entities.
Photo by Sarah Nigbor