The idea in 1991 was simple: Build a network of paths to help get people outdoors and connect various areas of Springfield.
Bicyclists, walkers and runners could use them. So could moms pushing strollers and folks taking Fido (on a leash) out for a romp.
That first pilot-project trail in 1991 along South Creek in Springfield was only about 1,000 feet. But it laid the foundation for one of Springfield’s most successful ideas.
From that humble beginning, Ozark Greenways trails now cover about 110 miles, including paved and unpaved paths and a 6-mile water trail on the James River. More trail connections are in the works, according to Mary Kromrey, executive director of Ozark Greenways.
More trails in the works
The Springfield-based nonprofit most recently partnered with the TrailSpring mountain biking group and City Utilities to develop 30 miles of multi-use trail around the perimeter of Fellows Lake. The last few miles of that natural-surface trail system are scheduled to be finished by May.
Next up: The $20 million Chadwick Flyer trail that will link downtown Springfield with the Community Center in Ozark via a network of greenway trails.
“There’s a lot of momentum behind getting the Chadwick Flyer done,” Kromrey said. “We’re optimistic we’ll have the Greene County portion (seven miles) completed by 2026, and there are segments already being constructed in Christian County.”
The Chadwick Flyer will be a 10-foot-wide concrete multi-purpose trail with gentle slopes that will provide a convenient recreation link between the two cities. It’s named after a train that carried timber and people in the early 1900s between Springfield and the town of Chadwick.
According to local historians, the name “Flyer” was tongue-in-cheek, since the train only traveled 10 mph and took all day to make the 33-mile run from Chadwick to Springfield and back.
That rail line was later abandoned, and parts of the rail corridor will be used for the new Chadwick Flyer greenway trail. The $20 million estimated cost includes engineering to take the trail across Highway 65 and over a portion of Lake Springfield.
“It’s exciting because we also see it as a viable transportation corridor that makes a connection between Ozark and Springfield,” Kromrey said.
From railroads to trails
Ozark Greenways already has experience converting an unused railroad into a much-used recreation trail.
In 1994, Ozark Greenways purchased a section of the Frisco Highline rail line between Bolivar and Springfield. Over the years, the railroad ties were removed and the railroad bed turned into a 35-mile recreation corridor, including a paved section from Springfield to Willard.
The Frisco-Highline greenway trail links Springfield, Willard, Ash Grove, Walnut Grove and Bolivar and is a popular place for distance runners and bicyclists to get a good workout.
Kromrey notes that Ozark Greenways doesn’t have a dedicated tax to fund its projects, but relies on private donations and city, state and federal recreation and transportation grants for its funding. Its budget in 2022 was $427,000.
Kromrey said all the trails are free to use, and they are open from sunrise to sunset, though she acknowledged there has been interest among some users to keep them open 24 hours a day. With gas prices likely to exceed $4 a gallon in Springfield soon, Kromrey said many people might start looking at greenway trails as a low-cost way to get to work, either by walking or by bike.
Greenway trails are a community resource that some people might have heard about but never given a try.
“They are for everybody to use and enjoy,” Kromrey said. “Whether it’s just a five-minute stroll or training for a marathon, these trails offer something for most folks.”