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First Hike and Bike Trail in Armourdale Neighborhood

Shoes crunched on the white gravel as the first walkers trekked along the Armourdale Hike and Bike Route, the Island View Loop, last Saturday in Kansas City, Kansas. The trail is named after the ‘Island View Loop’ from the river island that can be seen from the levee and from the Kansas Avenue Bridge.

At the entrance of the trail, walkers were concerned that the concrete wall was going to block their view of the river. Looking ahead, they realized the wall ended and the trail opened up to prairie grasses, wildflowers, large boulders going down to the river and trees everywhere.

On the trail in the early morning there were reports that a family of wild turkeys searched for food in the tall grasses. But during the 10 a.m. walk, wildlife was scarce other than the few grasshoppers jumping off the path and a few butterflies visiting the wild sunflowers.

The initial levee trail is 1.3 miles and is the first levee trail open to the public in Kansas City, Kansas. “We never allowed people on our right of ways before. This is an experiment for the next six months and we will see how it goes. In the near future as you come to use the trail, you will see turkeys, lots of deer and bald eagles here at the river,” said Bundy Jenkins, chair of the Kaw Valley Drainage District Board.

According to Jenkins there are about 31 bald eagles that return to the river every winter, roosting in the trees.

After the ribbon cutting ceremony Mayor Mark Holland announced he was ready to walk.

“Finally, Finally! It has taken us two years to get to this point. It has taken a paradigm shift that Parks and Rec is not only about fun and games but it is about a healthy lifestyle,” said Holland.

He has been a strong supporter of improved community health and helped to found the Healthy Communities Wyandotte (HCW) initiative in 2009 when Wyandotte County was ranked in last place out of 105 counties assessed for health.

The HCW serves as a countywide coalition aimed at mobilizing residents and partner organizations to improve health. “Encouraging our residents to walk, run and ride on our trails is key to the health and well-being of Wyandotte Countians,” said Holland.

Kansas City, Kansas has been participating in the Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties (LMCTC) program. LMCTC is a major component of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Comprehensive Let’s Move! Initiative, which is dedicated to solving the childhood obesity epidemic within a generation.

“We’re excited to join First Lady Michelle Obama in her efforts to reduce childhood obesity in the United States,” said Holland, “One of the ways to do that is to provide safe places for kids and families to be active. This new trail is one of those places.”

Neighborhood children took off on the trail with their bicycles, followed by community policing officers on their bicycles. Walkers joined Holland and District 2, Commissioner Brian McKiernan.

McKiernan sees the new trail as a starting point and he hopes that people will come out and use the trail and encourage their family and friends to join them.

“Maybe they will see this and think of other things we can do to create additional trails in Kansas City, Kansas,” he said.

Ben Alexander, director of Free Wheels for Kids, teaches kids bike safety and repair skills and gives them an opportunity to earn free bikes. He brought along several of the children to ride with him on the trail.

“This trail is a beautiful stretch along the river. This is just the first step in opening a lot of levees and rivers and making it a recreational resource. We have public rivers and public levees and it is goofy that we can’t enjoy them. I would like to see this eventually connected to a larger network of trails and people will be able to travel the trails for fun or use them to get around the city,” said Alexander.

Andres Ramirez is a biker and was excited to walk the new trail and see how he could incorporate it into the weekly bike rides he leads on Wednesday evenings. The weekly bike rides start at the Bike Shop at 5th and Central. Ramirez tries to take different routes around the city and the riders put in about ten miles on the weekly rides.

“We are trying to bring together the Latino community and get them out and ride. I want to break the taboo that bicycles are for poor people. In the Latino community we have high blood pressure, diabetes, and bicycling would be a good way to exercise and help people with their health issues,” said Ramirez.

Terry Jackson has been riding a bicycle since 1954 and hasn’t stopped yet. He lives in the Northeast side of Wyandotte County and wanted to check out the new bike trail.

“I would like to see the Jersey Creek corridor open up on the northeast side of the city. It needs a lot of repairs done and has been neglected for some time, but seeing this open, it gives me hope that the Jersey Creek corridor is a possibility,” said Jackson.

After walking the trail, Holland said, “It is fantastic. It is a great demonstration project for our whole community. I am thrilled that Kaw Valley Drainage District had the vision with us for healthy communities Wyandotte County and giving people the option to exercise here.”