Signage for Dubuque County Bike Route

by Dianne Koch

The Dubuque-1 Bike Route is considered one of the most scenic bike rides in the Midwest, according to the Iowa Bicycle Coalition. They have secured signage for this route, which should go into place this spring or summer. This 66-mile route loops through Dubuque County. It includes scenery, low-traffic roads, a couple of challenging hills, a brewery and a winery. 

 Starting at the Heritage Pond Trailhead is recommended because of its spacious parking and bathroom facilities. Turn to right out of the lot, and then turn left onto Highway 52 North.  After a mile of this busy road, take a right onto Sherrill Road. Although this is the longest climb of the route, there is a wide dedicated bike lane for the next 13 miles as it is part of the Mississippi River Trail.

            The pretty town of Sherrill has The Barn Restaurant and the Black Horse Inn, a stone dwelling built in 1856 which housed a tavern, restaurant, dancehall and hotel all at once.

             Veer to the right onto Balltown Road and for a 2.5-mile side trip take Circle Ridge Road to the Bishop Winery and Vineyard if you are need of refreshments.  Back out on Balltown Road, travel north along a series of ridges and hills with beautiful panoramic views overlooking Iowa and Wisconsin. A visit to Breitbach’s Country Restaurant, the oldest continuously-operated restaurant in Iowa dating back to1852, is always a great experience. A spectacular view awaits the rider at the town’s western edge. Be sure to take a few minutes to enjoy the Driftless Region with this birds-eye view.

            Stay on Balltown Road for a couple more miles, and then turn left on Tollgate Road. Gentle rolling hills will go to Holy Cross. Noonan’s North is recommended as a potential stop before heading south on Holy Cross Road towards Farley.  Take a right on Dyersville East Road. The Field of Dreams movie site is close by on Lansing Road. Dyersville East goes into Dyersville and the Textile Brewing Company sells their craft beer in the great atmosphere of a restored sewing factory.  The Dyersville Basilica Catholic Church with its impressive twin steeples is close by.

            From Dyersville, the rider has options. One way back to Dubuque is the 26-mile Heritage Trail. The finely crushed limestone trail requires a $2 fee but the scenery is beautiful with various ecosystems—bluffs, meadows, bogs, woodlands, and the Little Maquoketa River visible almost the entire way. Be equipped with water as only one community is directly on the route.

            If you choose the road route, take 2nd Avenue SE and turn left onto Prier Road to Holy Cross Road. Take a right into Farley and take Olde Highway Road to Epworth and Centralia. Junction 21, a bar and restaurant, can provide more refreshments if needed, Turn left on Sundown Road, take a right on Asbury Road, wave high to the Sundown Ski Area, a great winter time play area, and head into Asbury. At the Northwest Arterial with the Culver’s Restaurant, turn left onto the bike trail, cross at John F. Kennedy Road, and continue down the hill to the Heritage Trail. A left at the T will take you back to the Heritage Trail parking lot. 

            The route is worth the effort in beauty, hospitality, and the challenge.

Two Summer Rides Across Iowa

by Dianne Koch

Assuming we are past the worst of the Covid-19 outbreak, this summer will hopefully see two bike rides across Iowa: The traditional Ragbrai and the new Iowa Ride.

The Iowa Ride emerged last year when former Des Moines Register Ragbrai organizers broke from the Register and began to promote the new ride as an alternative. At first, the dates corresponded with the Ragbrai dates, but when that posed logistic problems within bike groups, such as which group gets the team bus for the week, then the Iowa Ride was moved to the prior week and will travel from east to west. Now, die-hard riders can go west on week one and return east on week two.

The Iowa Ride will begin in Dubuque on July 12 and travel to Monticello, Vinton, Eldora, Clarion, Emmetsburg, Sheldon, and end on July 18th at Rock Rapids. With 10,649 feet of climb, the route will cover 416 miles. Like Ragbrai, it will offer entertainment and street celebrations daily. Half of the profits will go to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital and the other half will be divided among the host towns. Check out IowasRide.com for further details.

Ragbrai planning is also in the works at this time.  The July 19-25th ride will start in LeMars with overnight stops at Storm Lake, Fort Dodge, Iowa Falls, Waterloo, Anamosa, Maquoketa, and Clinton. This 420-mile route with 12,306 feet of climb is ranked as the sixth shortest ride, according to the Ragbrai website. The usual traditions will continue and more information can be found at Ragbrai.com.

What Iowa Student Drivers are Taught About Bicycles

By Art Roche

I thought it might be interesting to see how bicycles and bicyclists are discussed in the Iowa Driver’s Manual (the state’s instruction manual for people wanting to be licensed to drive an automobile.)  I’m referencing the June 2019 revision.

I was happy to see that the word bicycle or bicyclist appears 46 times in the manual.

Please understand that these are not laws about bicyclists (or motor vehicle operators, for that matter.)  These are simply instructions for car drivers about watching out for bicyclists.  I’ll follow up in a future newsletter about bicycle laws in Iowa and bicycle ordinances in Dubuque and Dubuque County.

The first mention is in the discussion about Driver Education.  The thirty hours of classroom instruction should include four hours substance abuse education, and a minimum of 20 minutes (emphasis mine!) on railroad crossing safety, information on organ donation, and information on bicycle and motor cycle awareness.

The section on signage shows the standard color for bicycle and school warning signs:

Fluorescent Yellow-Green, a new color that is much easier to see in low light and foggy/rainy weather.  Next in the section on Reserved Lanes, there is a depiction of the bicycle lane sign.  “Do not travel in one of these lanes unless operating that type of vehicle.”

When to Yield the Right-of-Way: “Where vehicles or pedestrians are likely to meet one another and there are no signs or signals to regulate traffic, there are rules that say who must yield the right-of-way. These rules tell drivers who goes first and who must wait in different traffic situations. The law says who must yield the right-of-way; it does not give anyone the right-of-way. You must do everything you can to prevent striking a pedestrian or another vehicle, regardless of the circumstances. Be alert for bicyclists. While bicyclists and motorists must share the rights and responsibilities of using public streets and roads, motorists should realize bicycle riders are very vulnerable in crashes. Therefore, motor vehicle drivers should use good defensive driving skills to avoid collisions with bicyclists.”

Intersections: “…You should watch out for bicyclists. Be ready to yield the right-of-way, even at times the bicyclists should yield to you. They have no defense against a car or truck, so it is your responsibility as a driver to watch out for them.”

Space to Cross or Enter: “…Before you pass, look ahead for road conditions and traffic that may cause other vehicles to move into your lane. You might lose your space for passing because of…people or bicyclists near the road.”

Changing Lanes: “…When changing lanes, you should …check for other road users. Remember there are other road users such as motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians that are harder to see than cars and trucks. Be especially alert when you are entering the roadway from the curb or driveway.”

The most extensive discussion on bicycles in the Manual is in the section titled “Sharing The Road.”  “Bicycle riders are common on Iowa’s roads. You will meet them in cities and on country roads. Bicycles are a recognized form of transportation. Under Iowa law, bicyclists and motorists must comply with the same rules of the road and be given the same rights. Sharing the road means sharing these rights and responsibilities. Just as motor vehicle operators have different levels of skill, you will find bicycle riders with varying levels of skills. When you approach bicycle riders, assess the bicyclists’ capabilities. A skillful cyclist rides predictably and holds a steady line.  Common signs of bicyclist inexperience may include:

• riding near the gutter;

• swerving unpredictably;

• ignoring traffic signs and signals; and

• riding without a light at night.

If you see these signs, be ready for any sudden movements by the bicyclist. Give bicycle riders the room they deserve and need for safety. When passing a bicycle rider, pass as if the cyclist were a vehicle and move into the other lane (emphasis mine!). On narrow, two-way roads, wait for a break in traffic before passing. Do not pass if oncoming traffic is near. After passing, cautiously return to your lane – a bicyclist could be in your blind spot. Do not honk your horn or flash your headlights at bicyclists. They may be startled and lose control. Bicycles often travel nearer the right edge of a traffic lane. However, they may swerve to avoid road hazards such as potholes, glass debris, drainage grates, or a strong crosswind.  Failure to see bicycle riders can cause vehicle/bicycle crashes. Use extra caution during peak morning and afternoon traffic – the sun’s glare may hide a bicyclist in your path. An experienced bicyclist on a multispeed bike can maintain a speed of 15 to 25 miles per hour on level pavement. When making a right turn near a bicycle rider, move to the far right before turning. If there is a bicycle lane, merge into it to prevent being overtaken by a cyclist. Do not race around a cyclist and make a right turn across his or her path. You may be setting up a collision if the cyclist cannot stop in time. Be sure to check the blind spot over your right shoulder before beginning to turn. Some bicyclists may choose to ride on the street even though there is a bicycle path available nearby. If so, give the rider the needed space. Some studies have shown there are more bicycle collisions on bike paths than on the roadways. Be careful when opening your vehicle door. Road widths can force bicyclists to ride close to parked vehicles where they may be injured by an opening door. Give bicyclists the extra courtesy they need to negotiate railroad tracks and narrow bridges. When in doubt, yield to bicyclists!”

Driver Responsibilities: “Because motorcycles, mopeds and bicycles have narrower tires, they can get caught in cracks easier. Railroad tracks, steel bridge expansion joints, sewer grates, metal grating on bridges and other metal surfaces are dangerous for cyclists. Give riders plenty of room to move around when approaching these road structures.”

Schools, playgrounds and residential streets: “These areas often have children present. Always be alert for them crossing the street, or running or riding bicycles into the street without looking.”

Roundabouts: “…Generally, cyclists should walk their bicycles across the pedestrian crosswalk using the same rules as pedestrians. Experienced cyclists may navigate roundabouts like motorists. Do not hug the curb. Bicyclists using the roundabout should follow the same rules as motorists. Ride in the middle of the lane to prevent vehicles from passing. Yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.”

Watch for the next installment in this series: bicycle laws in Iowa and bicycle ordinances in Dubuque and Dubuque County.

Bellevue State Park connected via hiking trail bridge

by Charlie Winterwood

You can now walk from Bellevue Butterfly Gardens to the city of Bellevue on trails. Drive to the Bellevue State Park by turning right immediately after the Highway 52 bridge over Mill Creek in Bellevue and head uphill. Turn right at the top of the hill and park in the parking lot.

            From there, hike through the restored prairie to the butterfly garden. Keep to the right and head past the butterfly garden and turn right on the Quarry Trail. At the bottom of the Quarry Trail, you will see the new bridge over Mill Creek. Cross it and to the left is a new city park along Mill Creek or head to your right and you will eventually arrive in downtown Bellevue.

City Engineer Jon Dienst Updates TSTV Board Members

       City Engineer Jon Dienst visited with Tri-State Trail Vision Board Members on August 26, 2019 to report on the city’s work regarding trails.  He began his presentation with the City Council’s Goal-Setting 2034 Vision Statement from August 14, 2019.  In 15 years, the City Council would like to see the city preserve “our Masterpiece on the Mississippi” via a “strong diverse economy and expanding connectivity.”   Within the next five years, the city wants to have a sustainable environment and a connected community. This includes “equitable transportation, technology infrastructure, and mobility” as well as “diverse arts, culture, parks, and recreation experiences and activities.”

         To meet these goals, Dienst then mentioned the following items as part of the fiscal years 2019 and 2020 pedestrian and bicycle projects undertaken by the city.

  1. Chavenelle Road Hike/Bike Trail will be completed during the spring and summer of 2020.  The project will be a 10’ wide concrete off-street trail from the NW Arterial to Seippel Road.  The first phase, the west end, will be constructed by Midwest Concrete beginning in March 2020.
  2. The City is about to release a request-for-proposal (RFP) for the East-West Corridor project.  This includes three roundabouts in series on University Avenue at Pennsylvania, Asbury, and Loras. The engineers anticipate construction to start in 3 to 4 years.  On-street bike lanes will likely be considered for this project. The RFP will be released this fall.
  3. HUD Resiliency Projects on 17th Street/W. Locust and 22nd St./Kaufmann Ave.: The phases on both corridors between Elm and Central Avenue are complete. The City is working on Kaufmann Avenue from Central to Main Street.  Completion of this phase is expected to be spring 2020.  Additional phases on 17th/W. Locust and on Kaufmann Avenue are in the design stage and require additional funding, which the City is pursuing.
  4. Bee Branch Trail from 12th to 16th Street. We are working on a multi-phase trail project from 12th near the Alliant solar field to 16th Street near Dairy Queen. The first phase will be the 16th Street/Sycamore intersection south towards the solar field. 
  5. 2021 Budget is looking at a Major Streets Improvement Plan, a Top Priority item for the council over the next few years.  This includes looking at streets that have been annexed into the city like Roosevelt Street, 32nd Street, Cedar Cross Road, etc. that need sidewalks and perhaps trails. 
  6. Dienst always asks us for suggestions where there are “pinch points.” Where can the city improve better biking access? We suggested: What will be access to the new SW Arterial and Old Davenport Road from Key West Drive? Is there a way to proceed safely up Kaufmann Avenue via Valeria Street and then to the Kaufmann and Kane intersection? Or will a wide enough trail be along all of Kaufmann Avenue?
  7. The City has invested around $350,000 in pedestrian ramp projects over the summer. This is a federal Department of Justice requirement when doing pavement overlay projects.
  8. Let the City Engineer’s Department know of good places to develop better biking routes.  He is also looking for “bike boulevard” opportunities. This is described as long city streets that run with few cross streets, relatively low traffic counts, and a wide enough width to promote safe biking. One example would be upon exiting the Bee Branch and turning left onto Garfield Street. Should we develop a long street like Garfield into a bike boulevard? Would making a return loop south on Lincoln be feasible?

        The MyDbq App is available for questions, comments, reporting of potholes and dangerous cracks, and other problems. Download the app on phones and it will record the GPS coordinates of the problem area and be sent to the appropriate city office.

Thanks to Jon, the City’s Engineering, Urban Planning, and Leisure Services Departments for cooperatively working together to secure funding, provide a vision, and create enjoyable recreational opportunities for Dubuque-area residents.

Galena River Trail

The Galena River Trail, which starts under the Highway 20 Bridge in Galena, extends for almost 10 miles south a little bit beyond Chestnut Mountain. This mixed paved and tightly packed crushed gravel trail is beautiful and worth the drive from Dubuque.  We were on it a day after a heavy rain and only had a few mud puddles to dodge, so Kevin and I highly recommend this trail.  

       It leaves the Galena River Boat Landing area, winding through a grassy area with its own spring. Meandering westward through wooded riverside terrain bursting in late summer yellow wildflowers, the trail becomes wider as it is shared with local driveway accesses.  The section also includes signage of the natural and historic features. One informative board describes how a flour mill became an electrical plant, another explains the Galena River Lock and Dam history, and several others feature the local flora, such as ferns, horsetail reeds, wetlands vegetation, and wildflowers. After four miles or so, Adirondack chairs invite riders to take a break and view the junction of the Galena with the Mississippi.  The trail heads south along the Mississippi backwaters. Riders soon see a hiking trail on the left that leads to Casper Bluff, a Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation Land and Water Preserve with effigy, conical, and linear mounds. This hike is well worth the time. 

        Back on the bike trail, riders will find the village of Aiken, a whistle-stop community from the train era.  Here the gravel path merges with the paved South River Road. Views of the river on the right are spectacular, especially in a clearing that shows Chestnut Mountain Ski Resort downstream. Traveling through more woods with exposed limestone rocks adds to the scenic quality.  The trail passes along the west side of Chestnut Mountain. It is fun to watch the alpine slide riders on this warm summer day.  Continuing on for another mile, the shared road trail is bumpy and hillier than before but still navigable. It stops with several large stones and an Illinois DNR sign informing the rider that the trail ends. We are ten miles from Galena. Hopefully, in the future, this wild segment to the south can be developed and continue towards Blanding’s Landing and Hanover, and ultimately join the Great River Trail in Savanna.

       We retrace our path back to Galena.  Since it’s such a lovely day, we notice that another portion of the Galena River Trail also runs north from the Highway 20 Bridge to the Buehler Preserve entrance. This segment sits atop of a dike or old rail bed.  Views of the Galena River are immediately below the trail and provide lots of opportunities for birding.  We ride back to the car, sad to see another beautiful day of biking end.  Yet we make a pledge to return in the fall for another spectacular show.

The Great American Rail Trail

Rails-to-Trails, a nationwide trail advocacy group, has begun the nation’s first coast-to-coast trail, stitching together a series of existing trails in 12 states, including Iowa.  At 3700 miles, the Great American Rail-Trail, as it will be called, spans from Washington, D. C. to Washington State. Over 52 % of the trail, or 1900 miles, is now complete with 125 existing segments. Another 90 segments need to be developed. A national campaign has been started to increase fundraising and complete the rail-trail within a few years.

        The Rails to Trails Conservancy started in the 1980s as a thought from David Burwell and David Harnick who decided that recycling the abandoned railbeds was the right thing to do. Although small at its initiation, the concept grew steadily throughout the years. Once a number of converted trails began to line up, the idea of a single national trail was possible. Today it has reached beyond expectations. Over 50 million Americans will be within 50 miles of the Great American Trail as it will cross centrally-located states. Here in Iowa, the proposed route includes the Great River Trail and the Mississippi River Trail in the Quad Cities, the Hoover Nature Trail in eastern Iowa, the Cedar Valley Trail from Cedar Rapids to Waterloo, and the Cedar Lakes Trail in the Waterloo and Cedar Falls area. All of these lie within an easy driving 70 to 90-mile distance for Dubuque area residents. A map of the proposed trail can be found on Google Images under The Great American Rail Trail.

            Follow this link to watch a video produced by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy: https://www.railstotrails.org/greatamericanrailtrail/ Donations can be given online. More information can be found online as well.

Southwest Arterial Highway 52 September 2019 Progress Video

            The Southwest Arterial is making progress despite the unusually rainy September.  As of this writing, the Dubuque area has received over 12 inches for the month of September instead of the usual 4.5 inches.  This is causing delays but the city publishes a video monthly now that progress is quite visible and fast-moving.  A bike trail is being constructed along with the road. Paving of this trail will not occur immediately but city leaders will be writing grants and securing funding as quickly as possible.  Here is September’s video: https://youtu.be/YHkVU2vscKY. October’s will likely be coming out soon.

Nation’s Longest Canopy Walk at Whiting Forest

 by Dianne Koch

         Our travels recently took us to the Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens in Midland, Michigan. A unique canopy walk in the forest trees provided a unique hiking experience. Opening in October 2018, the canopy walk is the nation’s longest at 1400 feet long with two lookout points at 25 feet in height, and the third point at 40 feet overlooks the Forest’s apple orchards. A children’s playground, a meandering stream, the Forest Café, an education center, woodlands, ponds, meadows, and, of course, hiking trails give visitor’s plenty to see and explore. The Visitor’s Center was originally designed as a home for the Whiting family by a relative who studied at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin School in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Nearby is the Dow Gardens property, a lovely large arboretum that was the estate of the Dow Chemical family who bequeathed the land for outdoor nature appreciation.

Ride-Sharing Program in Midland, Michigan is Engaging

Trying Out a Ride-Sharing Program in Midland, MI

            The Whiting Forest Birding Festival extended an invitation to my husband Kevin to teach a nature writing workshop on September 21st in Midland, Michigan. On the morning of his workshop, I decided to try out the city’s bike-sharing program. A bike-share station was located at a city park within a block of our hotel. The ride company Zagster.com required the creation of an account, recording the chosen bike’s number, and unlocking it, all simple steps done from the convenience of my cell phone.  The 5-speed bike was heavy but actually moved easier than I expected. A front rack could hold my purse and water bottle.   

            I decided to check out three trails from the park, but the first exciting feature of this ride was Midland’s famous Tridge.  This walking and cycling bridge, an engineering marvel, crosses the junction between the Chippewa River and the Tittabawassee River. Built in 1981, the Tridge is 8 feet wide with three 180’ sections forming a Y. The trail to the left enters the Chippewa City Park and then upon of the recommendation of a Festival participant, I traveled about one mile to the Whiting Overlook.  This mountain in the middle of flat land overlooks several ponds with visiting pelicans. By the time I arrived at 9 a.m., the pelicans were gone but the ride to and from the area went through some scenic wooded marshland and prairie remnant fields.

I rode back to the Chippewa Trail and headed west for 3-1/2 miles to the Chippewa Forest Preserve, a county park with 1568 acres and numerous trails, a nature center, a homestead, kayak/canoe launch, and lots of educational programming. Fall colors in the shrubs along the way made for a beautiful ride.  The trail travels through extensive and scenic sections of the preserve. A visit to the Nature Center and the Homestead are well worth the time.  In the Nature Center, a room with floor-to-ceiling windows provides an overlook, extending over the Chippewa River. Comfortable couches allow anyone to view the river wildlife and foliage. Exhibits detail natural information and also educate viewers on the offerings of the area and its inhabitants. The homestead area immerses the hiker into the 1870s-era homestead, barn, syrup building, a schoolhouse, and a wigwam.  On the return trip back to Midland, signage again offers insights into the land, the animals, and the plant life. 

Once more at the Tridge, I decide to take a quick ride on the Pere Marquette Rail Trail on the north side of the Tittabawassee River. (This trail’s namesake has ties to the Dubuque area. Father Jacques Marquette floated down the Mississippi with Louis Jolliet in 1673.) Historically, the trail is named after the Flint and Pere Marquette Railway that ran through here in 1857 as a central Michigan rail connecting Flint, Michigan to Lake Michigan on the west. This 22-mile paved  Pere Marquette Rail Trail running from Midland to Clare then becomes the 55-mile Pere Marquette State Trail from Clare to Baldwin, which is primarily crushed stone.

The Pere Marquette Rail Trail detour due to bridge construction takes the rider on the city’s lovely West Main Street with grand older homes.  In one-half mile, the detour connects to the main trail and travels northwest for 22 miles to the city of Clare.  Unfortunately, I only traveled three miles and then returned due to time limitations, yet it is a scenic section.  It passes a couple of city parks that line the Tittabawassee River. The Herbert Dow Memorial Museum, Northwood University, and Dow High School all have access to the trail. The tree-lined trail is busy on this Saturday morning with bikers and runners of all ages. 

All in all, the ride-share bike trip was a success. When the rider needs to stop, the rear bike tire can be locked and the bike carries a cable to lock onto bike racks.  Opening the app and touching the resume button is easy.  At the completion of the ride, riders touch the “end ride” button.  The cost of the pay-as-you-go plan is $1 for each half hour, so I had a bill of only $5, inexpensive entertainment for over two hours of activity.  For more regular users, Zagster.com also has an option of an annual $20 fee. With this method, all trips under two hours are free and then $1 per hour after that. I recommend utilizing bike sharing programs when a rider has to leave his or her bike at home. The well-marked trail system was easy, beautiful, and varied in woodlands, rivers, and activities.  Midland, Michigan, is blessed by such a wonderful amenity and the inexpensive Zagster ride-share system.