Discussions have resumed about long-running plans to extend the public recreation trail on the north side of town.
The El Dorado Parks and Playgrounds Commission and the El Dorado-Union County Recreation Complex Board each discussed the proposed project during separate meetings last week.
The 2.25-mile trail encircles Lions Club Municipal Golf Course, the Union County Fairgrounds and the El Dorado School District soccer fields and has been become a popular local recreation spot for walkers, joggers and bikers since it opened in 2013.
Ken Goudy, chairman of the parks and playgrounds commission, said that at 9 a.m. on a recent morning, he counted 39 vehicles lined up near the walking trail in the fairgrounds’ parking lot.
Goudy made the comments during an EPPC meeting Nov. 4 after City Clerk Heather McVay told commissioners that she had received an email inquiry about efforts to develop a walking, biking and hiking trail system in El Dorado.
Commissioners and Robert Edmonds, director of public works, said efforts to extend the existing trail on the north side of town stalled because of difficulties procuring land easements.Those plans involved extending the trail another 2.5 miles southward to Champagnolle Road and looping it east toward U.S. 167 to connect back to the existing path.
In July of 2019, the El Dorado City Council agreed to spend up to $10,000 to study the feasibility of acquiring easements to extend the city’s pedestrian and bicycle trail system.
Council Member Billy Blann, who is championing the cause, presented the proposal, explaining then that a $250,000 federal grant that had been awarded to the city three years earlier and funneled through the Arkansas Department of Transportation was intended to expand the existing trail.
He told council members that Edmonds recommended that the project and grant funds be directed to another location.
The council approved a master plan for a citywide pedestrian/bicycle network in 2017.
Blann said the alternate location for the trail extension follows a portion of the route that was recommended in the master plan: four miles of easements that were secured by the Union County Water Conservation Board for the Ouachita River water intake facility between U.S. 167 and El Dorado High School.
There have also been discussions about connecting the existing trail to the El Dorado-Union County Recreation Complex.
Work is under way to improve and expand the complex as part of a two-phase master plan.
Phase one is nearing completion, with four new softball and baseball fields on the south end of the facility and improvements to four older fields on the north end. Construction is almost finished on two new youth soccer fields just south of the Dumas Pavilion and complex board members are discussing options for a new concession stand and restrooms to serve the newest fields in the final component of phase one.
Phase two of the master plan calls for a baseball field for older teens and adults and parking lot improvements.
On Nov. 4, Greg Harrison, a member of the EPPC and chairman of the complex board, said building a walking trail around the complex had also been considered for the second phase. He made similar statements during a complex board meeting two days later.
Edmonds said the city could apply for another grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation Alternatives Program to help fund the project.
“It’s just that tying the two together is going to be difficult. Ultimately, it was the plan. We were going to extend (the existing trail) around to (U.S. 167) and then tie it into the complex and put one around the complex,” Edmonds explained.
“But the right-of-way has not been easy. It’s been impossible to get and nobody wants to condemn an easement for a walking trail,” he continued.
Parks and playgrounds Commissioner Alexis Alexander asked who owns the complex property and Edmonds said the city is property owner. The complex sits just outside city limits on Champagnolle Road and is supported by the city of El Dorado and Union County.
Goudy and Edmonds said the Union County Industrial Board owns land across from the complex.
“Eventually, we could put one around that little industrial park out there. That would be easy to tie those two (the complex and industrial park) together,” Edmonds said.
Addressing Alexander, Harrison said, “The answer to your question is we’re getting pretty close to the property line where we’re building the soccer fields. I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to put in a trail.”
Edmonds agreed, saying, “We could squeeze that (walking trail) in there.”