There isn’t a lot known about the donor behind Sunday night’s meeting at Sugar Creek Mayor Matt Mallison’s winery, a conference called to discussed the possibility of expanding and unifying Independence’s historic trails.
What is known about the donor: he had an erratic early period that led him far away from his New England home into the West, a journey that began in a car that broke down and continued by train and then thumb, Oregon-California Trails Association Association Manager Travis Boley said. The donor arrived at the Oregon Trail somewhere in Wyoming and there he became a lifelong advocate of historic settlers’ route.
“It caught this old guy’s imagination,” Boley said. “He became a fervent believer.”
This weekend’s meeting was called to affect a similar inspiration in the group of lawmakers, government officials and interested parties gathered at the Sugar Creek winery.
Boley was joined by representatives of the National Park Service to pitch a continuous three-and-three-quarter-mile trail, which would start in Sugar Creek and go through Independence’s historic downtown district.
It would connect with the Oregon, California, Santa Fe national historic trails system.
Sugar Creek would be the start of a continuous, 40-mile trail in development that would continue through Raytown and south Kansas City into Johnson County, Kansas, ending in Gardner, Kan.
Wayne City Landing, the former campsite of Lewis and Clark and commencement point for pioneers heading west, would be the head of this historic trail.
Much of the work required would just be connecting existing work, like the trail that connects Mill Creek Park and McCoy Park. Kansas City’s 6th District voters created the 3-Trails Village Community Improvement District, which has created significant portions of what will become the 40-mile long trail. Boley’s presentation Sunday night focused on the extensive network of built paths and noteworthy stakeholders who’ve signed on to the project already, including Cerner and Avila University, two parties that have committed to building a portion of the historic trail on their property.
Filling in those blanks in the Independence and Sugar Creek areas would be priced somewhere in the “low hundreds of thousands” and might be done within the next decade, Boley said. The existing trail system has been created through a mix of private and public funding, not tax funding. Boley said he doesn’t expect that funding to be any different moving forward.
Federal parks representatives met with MARC (Mid-America Regional Council) to plan the project moving forward. Sugar Creek and Independence officials have been supportive of the effort, Boley said.
“Getting big players involved, that’s what (Sunday) night was about,” he said.
Sugar Creek and Independence would be a project that has been a pronounced regional priority, Boley said. It’s a level of unprecedented attention, Boley explained citing the construction of a pedestrian bridge at Interstate 435 and Bannister Road for the trail project, the first bridge ever constructed anywhere in the nation for a historic trail.
The bridge is expected to be completed by the fall.
The federal parks staffers present at Sugar Creek reinforced the statement.
“This is a poster child for the whole country. There’s a spotlight on what’s happening here,” Steve Burns Chàvez, National Parks Service landscape architect and trails team member, said. “People are interested in very high levels nationwide.”
Chàvez traveled to Sugar Creek from a National Parks Service office in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he works to meet with area stakeholders and gauge how the audience would receive the plans for this project, a first of its kind, locally owned urban trail system.
“This has never been done,” Chàvez said. “Congress intended for these trails to be part of the American experience. Here we are at the ground floor of something new, really exciting and really big.”