PROJECT HIGHLIGHT: Strollin' By The River
By BRADY JONES
It's easy to lose yourself — but in a good way.
It's just so hard to stop when you start along the trails that crisscross Norfolk, Neb.
Before you know it, you might find yourself halfway across town.
"We are fortunate to live in a city where city staff and local agencies are very pro-active about developing our trail system," said John Cahill, staff engineer for the City of Norfolk. "We are constantly applying for grant funding and evaluating where the next trail should go."
Of course many towns and cities have their own networks of concrete trails and bike paths, and perhaps the benefits are obvious.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these kinds of community projects increase citizens' physical activity and sense of community; reduce motor vehicle/pedestrian fatalities; and reduce traffic-related air pollution.
And there are financial returns, too.
"Investments in transportation infrastructure, such as off-street trails, dedicated bicycle lanes, and pedestrian bridges promote health and save money," the CDC outlined in a 2015 data report on healthy community design. "For every dollar invested in these projects, between $1.20 and $3.80 is saved as a result of reduced health care utilization and fuel consumption."
But for Norfolk, improving the city's trail system has a further economic incentive: boosting resident satisfaction and employee retention.
"The trails are just the start of a master plan to bring a better quality of life to Norfolk," said Denise Wilkinson, president and CEO of the Norfolk Area Chamber of Commerce. "They improve the quality of life by providing a safe place to walk, bike, run, and connect with others."
This summer, the city finished its North Fork Riverfront Trail Project, which loops around historic Johnson Park and follows the Elkhorn River to connect to the recently completed Norfolk Avenue Bridge Trail.
According to the city, the project allows pedestrians to avoid crossing multiple streets with heavy traffic.
"The trails throughout the city really allow people to get out and enjoy our city away from the vehicular traffic we are all used to," city engineer Cahill said. "We’ve been very intentional about planning our future trail system to connect to some of our main attractions in town, and I’m excited to see that discussion continue."
According to the Chamber's Wilkinson, those efforts are already having positive economic impacts for the city, especially as they have encouraged more visitor and customer growth in the downtown area.
"I was just speaking to one of the restaurant owners of a downtown establishment last week and he mentioned in the last few years, he has seen a marked increase in the number of new businesses downtown, which in turn, has led to a increase in customer traffic and success in his restaurant."
The Norfolk Chamber of Commerce even has a North Fork Riverfront Development Committee set up to promote the area and to consider ideas for further recreation, commercial, and housing development.
And those gray veins of concrete that carry the lifeblood of the community will be sure to play a role in bringing all of that together.
"Gerhold Concrete is excited to be a part of the North Fork Riverfront Trail that will serve as a conduit that connects business, parks and schools," said Gerhold Concrete Sales Manager Chuck Pearson.
The average resident may not think twice about how those trails got there, but they should recognize the red trucks driving around town since Gerhold Concrete has been helping Norfolk grow and develop since 1956.
Besides the Riverfront Trail, Pearson said Gerhold has been busy working on the Norfolk Avenue bridge, Faith Regional hospital, local churches, an expansion of the YMCA, and a new library.
"We look forward to assisting with projects for the betterment of the community," Pearson said.
And as these projects end and new ones begin, one thing is sure: Concrete will remain at the foundations — both literally and figuratively — of Norfolk's continued investment in itself, it's residents, and its businesses.