NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College’s Sand Creek Trail is a teenager, and its birthday gift is national recognition.
In 1997, the trail was a twinkle in the eye of Jake Goering, North Newton, and the late Larry Voth, longtime director of development at Bethel College. It came to be in 1998 as an improvement and extension of an old trail that linked Bethel’s main campus and Sand Creek.
Now, 13 years later, the trail has been designated a National Recreation Trail by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The wood-chip trail is now a two-mile loop that starts from the trailhead near the college maintenance shed. After a short distance headed east, the trail turns north and follows Sand Creek to where the water flows under I-135. The trail then goes west through an old hedgerow. A shorter loop takes walkers and runners through a hedgerow just north of Bethel’s athletic stadium and practice fields.
The trail connects to the paved loop in Chisholm Park, north of Kauffman Museum, and to the “Trail of Two Cities,” the paved bike and walking path that follows Sand Creek and links the cities of Newton and North Newton.
Features added to the trail since 1998 include 10 benches along the trail; Memorial Grove (created in 2003), which includes concrete benches, a gazebo, a fire pit and an area of memorial bricks; “The Plainsman,” an 11-foot-tall wooden sculpture created by North Newton artist John Gaeddert; Arbor Lane (planted in 2006), a double row of 54 trees of 18 species; and some elements of Bethel’s Discovery Adventure Course (built in 2010).
A 1968 federal act authorized creation of a national trail system comprised of National Recreation Trails, National Scenic Trails and National Historic Trails. While the latter two may be named only by an act of Congress, National Recreation Trails may be designated by the Secretary of Interior or Secretary of Agriculture to recognize exemplary trails of local and regional significance.
A National Recreation Trail must have been nominated through application by its managing agency or organization and must meet the requirements of “connecting people to local resources and improving their quality of life.”The NRT Program supports designated trails with benefits that include promotion, technical assistance, networking and access to funding.
Sand Creek Trail’s trail manager is Richard Rempel of North Newton, professor emeritus of mathematics at Bethel College, who took over the part-time position (with a small stipend from the Sand Creek Trail Committee) from Gerry Sieber in April 2009.
“I saw there was such a thing [as the NRT designation],” he says, “so I went on the internet to see what was required. I thought: ‘We can do that,’ so I asked the committee for approval and they gave it. There were no fees, just filling out documents and getting supporting material.”
The latter included the consent of every landowner adjacent to the trail, so Rempel got the necessary documentation from Bethel College, Mennonite Central Committee Central States and the city of North Newton.
Rempel sent in the application last November and has been waiting “on pins and needles” ever since, he says.
Sand Creek Trail was one of 41 trails in 17 states named June 2 – two days ahead of National Trails Day on June 4 – by Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J. Hayes and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) as National Recreation Trails. It was the only one named in Kansas for this year and is the first NRT in Harvey County.
The benefit to Sand Creek Trail of the designation is “primarily publicity,” says Rempel. “We can get some resources, and we are now on the [NRT] website.”
“I see Secretary Salazar’s recognition as an affirmation of the partnership between Bethel College and the North Newton community that has characterized our trail from the beginning,” he adds. “Sand Creek Trail and Sand Creek Community Gardens are both highly successful examples of how college and community can partner to provide meaningful social interaction between students and community members in a beautiful natural setting. I hope the National Recreation Trail designation is an encouragement to continue this partnership.”
“This gives national validation to a resource that so far mostly only local people know about,” says David Kreider, North Newton, chair of the Sand Creek Trail Committee.
The Sand Creek Trail Committee is planning a public celebration of the NRT designation later in the summer.
NRT designation recognizes existing trails and trail systems that link communities to recreational opportunities on public lands and in local parks across the nation. Each National Recreation Trail receives a certificate, a letter of congratulations from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and a set of trail markers. Sand Creek Trail joins a network of more than 1,100 previously designated trails that total more than 13,000 miles.
The NRT program is jointly administered by the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service in conjunction with a number of other federal and nonprofit partners, notably American Trails, which hosts the NRT website at www.americantrails.org/nationalrecreationtrails. Sand Creek Trail is located on the Bethel College website at www.bethelks.edu/bc/affiliateorganizations/sandcreek/.