When it comes to whether or not to pave a portion of Heritage Trail, there are two distinct camps with strongly held opinions.
A survey by the Dubuque County Conservation Board showed 249 respondents in favor of paving it, and 229 opposed, preferring to keep the trail lined with crushed limestone.
It’s hard to justify a change as radical as paving the 35-year-old trail when there’s no groundswell calling for such a change, and in fact, the nearly 500 people who felt strongly enough to weigh in on a survey were pretty equally divided. That doesn’t feel like enough momentum to make an elaborate and expensive transition to a partially paved trail.
For the people who prefer to use a paved trail for bicycling or walking, we have good news: There are plenty in the area, not to mention the sidewalks lining nearly every street in town and running through nearly every park. Heritage Trail offers a unique surface for those who prefer the softer give of the trail, and there just aren’t other trails like it.
Proponents, including the county Conservation Board, suggest paving the trail would increase its use three- or four-fold. That projection comes in part from counts on the part of Heritage Trail that runs through the city, where usage is higher.
If the county’s portion of the trail were paved, the theory goes, then its usage would be boosted like the trails in the city. Maybe. Maybe not. Would three or four times more people prefer to head to a paved Heritage Trail than other trails? It’s hard to say.
Paving wouldn’t be cheap, either. The stretch from Heritage Pond to Durango alone would cost at least $800,000. The taxpayer impact might be minimal, with conservation officials seeking to secure grant money to cover much of the cost.
Still, we have to wonder whether there might be better uses for that grant money.
Consider the largely overlooked Little Maquoketa River Mounds State Preserve. Located on a bluff along U.S. 52, just south of Sageville — and not far from Heritage Pond — the 41-acre site boasts a hilltop with 32 Native American conical burial mounds. Yet most local hikers never have been to the vastly overgrown spot.
County Conservation officials have said that if trees and weeds were cleared away, the location provides a stunning view of the Little Maquoketa River valley to the north. They suggest returning the mounds area to its original oak savanna landscape. Might that be a better use for grant money?
As it stands now, local hikers or bikers standing at Heritage Pond have the best of both worlds: They can choose their trail surface heading north or south. The county portion of Heritage Trail is a wonderful community amenity just the way it is.