MELISSA'S BLOG: A tale of two trails

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - People looking for a nice place to walk should put Shawnee North on their list. A new, paved walking trail is getting its finishing touches and is a nice addition to the park. I headed up for a jog earlier this week and saw several people already enjoying it.

The concrete path takes you on the west side of the park property, around the playground and softball diamonds. It's all out in the open, which is a plus for safety - you're not off in the woods and isolated. The nice, smooth surface makes it perfectly accessible for parents pushing strollers or people who might use a wheelchair or walker. Shawnee County Parks & Rec received a $137,000 Land and Water Conservation Fund grant to build the trail. The county matched it with another $100,000 or so.

It's not a long trail - 0.8 miles - but, to me, any addition is good for adding an extra loop that tacks on distance and/or varies your routine. I can see myself mixing it in with the park's other trails, which do take you back into the nature of the area. One of those follows dirt and grass paths cut through the woods and prairie on the east side of a creek on the park property. You cross a bridge on 43rd street to access it. The other runs through the woods along the west side of the creek, behind the aquatic center. You access it via a paved walkway at the north end of the parking lot (it comes out in the grass south of the aquatic center). Since the walkway and this section of trail are both paved, it, too, is reasonably accessible.

It's the latter trail that I'm hopeful will be next on the county's list for attention. In Spring 2015, heavy rains had the creek flowing high and fast. It undermined some parts of the stream bank, encroaching on the edge of the trail. By this Spring, Parks & Rec had put up orange protective fencing along the areas with the worst drop-offs. Add in more heavy rains that had the creek high and fast again, and there are now five spots with the fencing. The path itself is fine, it's just that's there's now a sudden edge with a drop-off.

Mike McLaughlin with Parks & Rec tells me that Parks Director Terry Bertels was due to meet with a stream bank stabilization consultant to see what might be done for the interior trail. The hope is they may stabilize the bank then make improvements to the trail. However, there is no timeline for this to be done and Bertels warned, "This will not be a quick fix." And any fix, I'm sure, will take money.

In tight budget times, it's not clear where this will fall on the priority list. The danger in letting it slide too far is that the problem becomes worse and the trail itself becomes damaged beyond repair. Obviously, I love our local trails, so I'd hate to see that happen. The new trail is nice, but I've long felt these original trails were a hidden gem for those shorter-to-mid-distance walkers and runners looking to get off the beaten path. In fact, Shawnee North is the home course for Seaman High School cross country and it's hosted Helping Hands' Tails on the Trail event for several years. I look forward to it remaining one of our local treasures, with the added sparkle the new path will bring.