It has been an idea that has been floating in the ether for years in Cassville, something that has been a dream in the minds of some of the community. That group hopes that the idea of a river walk connecting various points in and around the village can take one step closer to reality this summer.
“We have a fare amount of money collected, not near enough,” said Joe Ploessl, one of the members of the Cassville Car Cruise, which is setting out to build a 750-foot long section of the RiverWalk this year. That section would connect the public boat docks that were installed last year in Riverside Park with downtown in the community. The pathway would consist of a 10-foot-wide pedestrian sidewalk, along with LED lights every 100 feet.
The estimated cost of the materials for the project is $78,000, which they currently have roughly one-third of at the moment already raised. Ploessl said that they hoped to aggressively fundraise and market their plan this summer, and the hope a couple of grant applications come back successful, they will be able to install the proposed section by the end of September.
Some of that fundraising will include marketing 10-foot sections of the RiverWalk for sponsorship, each section marked to acknowledge $600 donations. There would also be sponsorship of benches, and street lamps marking the trail as well.
Ploessl noted that the cost of the project was only for materials, as members of the car cruise would install the walkway on their free time. “We’re getting pretty good at it,” Joe joked, noting the efforts with the docks and pads they installed in recent years at the park.
The Car Cruise club is not only getting good at installing infrastructure projects, they are also already good at coming with an idea and raising funds to do it. It was just last summer that the group installed the 117-foot dock at Riverside Park, raising more than $35,000 for the materials for riprap, concrete, and the docks themselves, installing them with dozens of hours of volunteers’ time, that part donated for free. The project’s total estimated worth was $90,000.
Initially put together as a way to improve and beautify the community’s park, the scope has widened, making the park the hub connecting different aspects of the community together. And that is shown as their ultimate vision for the RiverWalk is bit bigger than the first section addresses - a three-mile pathway that would connect to Stonefield Village to the north, and the US Fish and Wildlife Refuge to the south.
Ploessl recalls that more than three years ago the idea of a RiverWalk began to get floated around. “It will be a huge asset for Cassville,” Ploessl said of the idea.
One person also excited about the project is UW-Extension agent Todd Johnson, who has been working with the group for the past year and a half on the project. “The potential is fantastic,” Johnson said of the idea behind the RiverWalk. “Now, they just need to come up with a million dollars.”
Johnson became involved when he was approached by State Sen. Dale Schultz soon after Alliant Energy announced it was planning to close the plant, who wondered if Johnson would operate a community visioning project to see where Cassville should go from there. Johnson suggested that several residents attend the annual Community Leadership Alliance workshops first to learn skills to build projects and programs in their own communities so that members of the community could actively participate in coming up with a longterm vision for the community.
“We did a lot of brainstorming of ideas,” Johnson recalled of the efforts working with the group after the sessions, noting the group had already been thinking of the river walk idea, but had been thinking about coming up with the next section as they were ready to move from the first or second part.
Instead, the focus went onto what they thought the ultimate vision was for the project, where they wanted to ultimately end up. “Looking at where we want to get to, then bite off a piece at a time,” Johnson said, noting it would be easier to market, both locally and to state and federal governments if they had an overall goal.
Still, even though the idea has been more hammered out than in the past, plenty of question marks, beyond funding, remain. On the northern side, coincidentally the flux the Nelson Dewey power plant property is in, with different options being explored about its development, mean until that is settled there is no reason to look at what options there might be.
To the south, hurdles on connecting to the refuge also remain as well.
But connecting to the refuge would be another important step in the idea for the project, as it may then push the federal government tint looking at creating a visitors center that could then focus on birdwatching aspects of the property.
One of the most interesting components, and the one that could set the project apart from anything else would be an idea that the RiverWalk would also utilize the ferry to connect to trails across the Mississippi River in Iowa. That would be the first interstate trail system that crossed water by ferry.
“It then becomes an international attraction,” Johnson said of the idea.
Car Cruise members have already worked on inroads across the river in Iowa. Several individuals have attended a couple of meetings for the Clayton County Recreational Trails Coalition, a project by Iowa State Sen. Roger Thomas to increase interconnectivity of the trails on the Iowa side.
One of the goals individuals on both sides of the river are attempting to emulate is the success of Lanesboro, Mn., which has built a series of trails and paths that has visitors flocking annually to the community of 754 people. In the latest award, the community was selected by Smithsonian Magazine as one of the top 20 small towns to visit in the country. “They have received awards like that for the past 20 years,” Johnson said of the community’s tourist success, based on the Root River trails. “Its not unreasonable for a community like Cassville to do something reasonably similar.” Johnson said with the ideas that the members of the Car Cruise have come up with, they have the real potential of tapping into different funding opportunities, and marketing help from the various private and public entities, that it could real spread the word about what they are doing worldwide.