Malvern, Shenandoah hope to enhance trail connectivity through Community Visioning

June 22, 2021

Image edit of the Wabash Trace Nature Trail in Malvern illustrating the smooth path and shade enjoyed by trail users.Two southwest Iowa communities—Malvern and Shenandoah—are participating in the 2021 Iowa’s Living Roadways (ILR)Community Visioning Program.

Community Visioning is a participatory process that integrates landscape planning and design with sustainable action to assist community leaders and volunteers in making meaningful decisions about their local landscape. The program targets small, rural towns with populations under 10,000 residents that lack the resources needed to address local transportation needs.

Malvern, located in Mills County, has a population of just more than 1,000, and Shenandoah, a much larger community at nearly 5,000 residents, straddles Fremont and Page Counties. Both are among the nine southwest Iowa towns along the Wabash Trace Nature Trail, a converted railroad right-of-way stretching 63 miles from the Council Bluffs area south to the Iowa-Missouri border.

Both communities applied for the 2021 visioning program with the goal of better connecting the Wabash Trace to their business districts, along with improving pedestrian connectivity, safety, and access.

The first phase of the visioning process consists of research-based community assessments. Iowa State University Community Visioning staff and students evaluate each community’s bioregion—including vegetation, watersheds, topography—and provide a series of online maps and analysis to a local steering committee.

To evaluate the local transportation system, program staff conduct focus groups with different demographic groups—such as parents, youth, older adults, and people with mobility challenges—to identify factors and conditions affecting transportation use. ISU staff and students analyzed the data and graphically summarized the findings for each steering committee.

Image edit of the Wabash Trace Nature Trail in Shenandoah illustrating the convenience of the trailhead.Because Shenandoah is a larger town, ISU staff also conducted a survey of randomly selected residents in which they were asked to identify commuting, walking, and biking routes and to rank the importance of a number of transportation features and issues. ISU researchers compiled and summarized the survey results as a series of presentation boards for the Shenandoah visioning committee.

The assessment data will guide the Malvern and Shenandoah visioning committees in identifying and prioritizing what projects they would like to pursue. Over the summer, the Omaha-based firm, HDR Engineering, will work with the steering committees to develop conceptual design plans, cost opinions, and phasing recommendations. Trees Forever field coordinator Brad Riphagen will guide both communities throughout the visioning process and facilitate implementation planning.

The 2021 visioning program will culminate in an annual meeting on November 19, 2021, where representatives from Malvern and Shenandoah will join their counterparts from eight other communities to celebrate their accomplishments.

ILR is a collaboration of the Iowa Department of Transportation, ISU, and Trees Forever. Since the program’s inception in 1996, more than 250 communities—32 of which are in southwest Iowa—have participated in Community Visioning.