April 17, 2014

Earth Day will be celebrated near Coon Rapids with the groundbreaking ceremony for Whiterock Conservancy's $4.8 million state-of-the-art backcountry trail system.

The 35-mile trail will give visitors the opportunity to experience being surrounded by nature. Winding through the 7 square miles of Whiterock Conservancy, visitors will be taken to oak savanna and prairie restoration areas, forests, ponds, stunning vistas, pastures and sustainably farmed land in the Middle Raccoon River Valley.

"We could not think of a better way to celebrate Earth Day than marking the start of construction for a trail that will allow many, many more Iowans to experience the beautiful natural landscape Whiterock was created to protect," said Conrad Kramer, executive director.

The public is invited to the groundbreaking at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 22, and to help plant over 100 trees at the Bur Oak Visitor Center following the ceremony.

"Whiterock works every day to protect and improve this special land, but being able to have students from Coon Rapids-Bayard School and volunteers help plant trees the same day was the perfect complement to the groundbreaking," Kramer said.

Adding to packed aggregate trails already at Whiterock, this sustainably designed dirt trail will bring the total number of miles available to walkers and runners to 40.

For the first time, 16 miles of single-track trails specially designed for mountain bikers will be added. An additional 7 miles and an open pasture ride will be constructed to specifically serve equestrians. The remaining miles will be double-track trail offering some of the best vistas in Iowa, Kramer says, and will be open to all trail users including those with mobility restrictions who can use rented low-power vehicles to venture deep into the wilderness.

Other improvements being made as part of the trail system are a new horse RV campground, new hike/bike-in wilderness campsites, new interpretive signs and nature viewing blinds, and renovation of the Bur Oak Visitor Center to provide additional meeting and event space.

The groundbreaking ceremony will be held at the Turkey Ridge Campground, 1523 140th St., Coon Rapids. Speakers will include:

- Conrad Kramer, executive director, Whiterock Conservancy.

- Ken Herring, president, Whiterock Conservancy Board of Directors.

- Elizabeth Garst, project manager and treasurer, Whiterock Conservancy Board of Directors.

- Chad Schreck, executive director, Midwest Partnership.

- Local community representatives.

The tree-planting will be from noon to 5 p.m. at the Whiterock Conservancy Bur Oak Visitor Center, 1436 Highway 141, Coon Rapids.