Trails prove popular option during days of distancing
Scott Koperski Daily Sun news editor
Activities were canceled this summer, businesses closed and people were encouraged to avoid each other to prevent spreading the COVID-19 virus.
But staying away doesn’t mean you have to stay indoors.
Officials said the trail systems in and around Beatrice were as busy as ever as people looked for ways to stay active and entertained.
Julie Feist, director of the Homestead Running Club and a member of the Homestead Conservation & Trails Association, said many new faces could be seen enjoying the trails throughout the summer.
“We have been able to stay outside,” she said. “I think running during COVID kept a lot of us sane and they were meeting in groups with social distance, but I have seen so many more bikes, runners and walkers out than in past years, especially during the lockdown phase when people were encouraged to not go out as much.”
In September, a trip of events was held in Beatrice, including the Hoppy Half marathon and 5K event, the Homestead Cycling Tour and the Solstice Gravel Grinder bike ride.
Feist directed the marathon and 5K, and said both were well attended.
“We had our highest turnout of any event since we started doing events probably 12 years ago,” she said. “We were pretty excited to know that we had about 120 people participate and were still able to split them up for social distancing. We started the 5k race at a little different time than the half marathon, had sanitizer and those who wanted to wear masks could.”
Joe Billesbach organized the Gravel Grinder ride. He said the ride attracted 200 people, which he added was impressive considering the event was postponed to September from earlier in the year.
“I was very pleased,” he said. “I felt things went off pretty smooth as far as the staggered starts. Nobody was in huge groups. I think it’s a great trail system and people don’t realize how lucky we are to have the Homestead Trail. I have so many friends who love to take off from Lincoln and ride down here. As far as economics go, I think great boost for our city and county.”
Feist added that in addition to giving people something to do, utilizing the trails also promotes healthy lifestyles.
“I like to see that because I always go back to childhood obesity and getting kids out and off videogames,” she said. “I see a lot more families out riding bikes or using strollers and wagons. I think that was probably the biggest difference, the families out and about. Eat healthier and get out and do more outside. It’s good for you both mentally and physically.”
The trail system in Beatrice recently expanded, and a ribbon cutting was held in October for the most recently-finished portion.
The trail section extends from Beatrice’s Big Blue Water Park to Hannibal Park.
The Beatrice City Council approved the $1.34 million project last October, and received a grant from the Federal Highway Administration to pay for 80% of the project. The city will pay the remaining 20 percent as well as engineering expenses.
City Administrator Tobias Tempelmeyer said the addition took longer than anticipated to complete, but is a welcome addition.
“It took longer than we would have liked, but that section gets back away from the road a little bit and it’s very nice and peaceful back there,” he said. “There’s more we would like to get done, but they take time and money so we slowly chip away at them.
“I would say especially if you go back to that April or May time period where people were shut down, you saw a lot more people on the trial system or in the parks than I had ever seen before.”
Some of the sections officials hope to someday see include a stretch from Hannibal Park to Mead Lumber, which would connect existing trail systems, and even a trail to Homestead National Monument of America west of Beatrice, though Tempelmeyer stressed none of the projects are currently in motion.
“None of those are green-lighted at this time,” he said. “None of them are designed or have funding or are anything more than ideas at this point, but we continue to work on them and see what we can put together.”