It's been four years since the City of Kilgore began pursuing a trail system in earnest and almost as long since federal grant monies were awarded for the project, but the finish line is in sight.
With final negotiations completed and signed off on by council members Tuesday night, within two weeks the city is set break ground on Phase I of the project: approximately 6,500 feet-long, eight-feet wide, primarily asphalt and stretching south from Stone Road to Houston Street and beyond to Dudley Road.
Following a closed door discussion, the council returned to open session this week and unanimously-approved an agreement, awaiting final signatures, to swap a large tract of land owned by a private donor for a much smaller, undevelopable tract nearby.
Development of Phase II of the trail system is already underway, and Kilgore City Manager Josh Selleck outlined a working path for council members during their regularly-scheduled Tuesday.
From the Stone Road trailhead, Phase I extends through a wooded area to parallel part of Willow Springs Road before entering Meadowbrook Park. After crossing Houston Street, the trail continues along the edge of 25 acres of floodplain city officials gain through, in large part, a donation from Kilgore resident Sue Brown.
"Assuming the council would authorize the exchange and acceptance of what is primarily a donation of this land to the city this evening," Selleck explained, "we will be beginning groundbreaking for the trail system Phase I in approximately a week to a week-and-a-half."
Brown is swapping the city 25.205 acres in exchange for just a half-acre, narrow strip of land adjacent to her home, part of a utility easement.
“Sue has worked handed in hand with the city diligently for a number of years to try to hammer out this deal,” Selleck said. “We're very excited and very thankful for her extraordinarily generous donation.
"She's given a lot to the community.”
Ultimately, the portion of the trail on property east of Meadowbrook Golf Course will sit on one parcel of land, Brown's donation, with another seven-acre tract creating a buffer. In addition to the 25-to-0.5 swap between Brown and the city, the second tract is being donated by Mayor Ronnie Spradlin, also accepted unanimously Tuesday.
“All of these tracts are primarily floodplain,” Selleck noted. “These are the types of tracts cities traditionally develop for recreational uses.”
The remaining land from Brown's tract will likely be used as parkland or for another recreational use in the future. There's no set plan for Spradlin's donation – the ultimate usage will depend on how it could fit into the city's Master Plan.
The end of Phase I of the trail-set and the start of the next phase create a loop around Brown's 25-acre donation. The second trail continues across and along Dudley Road then follows Whipporwill to continue through city easements and, potentially, other accommodating property owners' land before ultimately terminating at Leach Street.
The approximately $300,000 project is funded in large part by Federal Highway Administration grant monies awarded in mid-2013 through Texas Parks & Wildlife (about $200,000). The remainder will be funded through 4As "quality of life" sales tax revenue from Kilgore Economic Development Corporation.
"We are nearly four years out from the original away of this grant," Selleck said, and some funds are set to expire in June unless the city acts. "We need to show progress in each of the next two quarters toward construction of it.
Meanwhile, "Phase II has also been cleared to move forward with environmental and archaeological ... This is really a combination of a lot of the things we've seen before."