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Jeremy Gaston/Herald-Chronicle
Trail volunteers install posts and signs marking the trail at the intersection of Fifth Street Sunday afternoon.
Jeremy Gaston | Editor

OSAGE CITY—Around 100 volunteers devoted their Sunday to improving the face of Osage City. Crews of duty-free labor worked at half a dozen sites as early at 7 a.m. Sunday morning, doing their part to help the people, parks, buildings and leisure areas within the community.

“We had crews at ECAT, the community building, the old skating rink, the rail-to-trails project, the school and all three nursing homes,” said Jim Harrelson of Community Covenant Church, which provided much of the manpower Sunday. “We were kind of all over the place.”

Harrelson’s church provided nearly 70 volunteers Sunday, some starting as early as dawn and working as late at 4 p.m. in the 100-degree heat. Parishioners had signed onto the project, stemmed from a seed given to church intern Ryan Mahoney, who got the ball rolling on the event.

“I called around to all the places we volunteered, found out their needs and assessed our resources as a church, trying to bring the two together,” Mahoney said. “We promoted it and got people interested. People brought skills, tools, ideas – it got a lot of momentum. It was awesome.”

Church members were involved in clearing brush on the trail; painting at the ECAT, community and recreation buildings, along with the school football locker rooms; cleaning up the school courtyard; and working with senior citizens.

“One of the more amazing parts was that I didn’t meet anybody upset or angry about the heat,” Mahoney said. “What I came across were people trying to figure out how to do more than what we’ve been asked to do.”

Mahoney took the idea to the Osage City Council during its July 12 meeting. Karen DeOrnellas, Kanza Rails-Trails Conservancy, had also attended the meeting to speak on the Osage City trail project. DeOrnellas’ presence at the meeting had little effect on the council’s decision to abandon a paved trail project, but a conversation with Mahoney following the meeting proved fruitful in opening up the trail in town.

“He indicated his church had an interest in the trail, and they were looking at doing some volunteerism,” DeOrnellas said. “We opened it to the conservancy and spread it through our mechanisms.”

Trail volunteers from the area, along with conservancy members from Alma, Wakarusa, Council Grove, Silver Lake and Abilene, pulled together with members of the church to put 40 to 50 people on the Flint Hills Trail route in Osage City, clearing extensive amounts of brush along the two-mile stretch, filling holes and marking the trail route with posts and signs.

“The trail people – they blew everyone’s expectations out of the water,” Mahoney said. “They just cleared a ton of stuff with tractors, chain saws and big stuff, it was incredible.”

Beyond the physical work accomplished along the route, DeOrnellas saw it as an opportunity for residents to take personal ownership of the trail.

“I thought we had an excellent day in Osage City,” DeOrnellas said. “It’s obvious to me that there are many residents that support the trail with their voices, but are also willing to go out and make the trail better. Lots of hard work, lots of sweat put into making that trail a reality for Osage City.”

“They made good progress,” Harrelson said. “I think everyone was pleased with the outcome.”

Harrelson was even more pleased with the reaction of those who volunteered.

“When we got back at the church at four o’clock, I heard people ask when are we going to do this again,” Harrelson said. “There’s a lot of energy out there.”

Church members donating time Sunday came from all over the area, and the goal of the church stemmed past helping the resources available to them.

“Our people get that pretty clear, that it’s not about us,” Harrelson said. “If all we do is gather on Sunday morning, we’ve done our community no good.”

Trail progress, hurdles

Sunday’s progress went a long way in defining the Flint Hills Nature Trail route through Osage City, which was one of the less developed areas in county. Hurdles, however, still exist along the 17-block recreational course.

“What we’re doing is working on the Osage City area and then the area between Osage City and U.S. 75 bridge,” said John Purvis, president of Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy. “It’s been cleared pretty well. It won’t take a lot to get it going. People have already started to use it.”

With the city’s decision to discard plans to pave all or part of the trail, the conservancy hopes to further develop the face of the trail.

“What we’ll be working on is grants to do surfacing,” Purvis said. “Hopefully, it’ll be a crushed limestone screening surface.”

Despite initial speed bumps, the conservancy hopes to become partners with the city in the continued development of the trail.

“We can help each other to create a facility that would benefit everyone,” Purvis said. “Just because they decided not to go through with the big project, I don’t anticipate that means they won’t be involved with the project at all. I think Osage City has a great deal to gain. I look for there to be a lot of traffic on the trail.”

Most of the Osage City stretch has been significantly improved for walking, bicycling and horseback riding. Setbacks to the project include a rail bridge near Fifth Street which needs repairs, along with the intersection of the trail with the BNSF railroad – both currently passable, but not optimal.

“We’ll address the bridge first, we’ll deck it and put railings on it,” Purvis said. “We’re already figuring out what we’re going to do with the railroad. We’ve made some enquiries about what their expectations are. We hope to visit with (BNSF) in detail. We want everything to be as safe as possible. That’s something we take real serious.”

To help address local hurdles, the conservancy looks to develop a local group of volunteers and organizers to help continue to maintain and develop the trail in Osage City and the surrounding area.

“We were hoping a volunteer group in the area would coalesce,” Purvis said. “Local ownership is what it’s all about.”

Sunday’s event helped bring several people together. DeOrnellas has begun working to find an area coordinator in Kareen King.

“Kareen has expressed interest in become active as an Osage City representative of the trail,” DeOrnellas said. “She’s going to be coordinating some future trail efforts in conjunction with the conservancy board.”

King helped organize the work day, and joined in the work with church and trail volunteers Sunday.

“It was a really great experience,” King said. “I definitely enjoyed it.”

Purvis and DeOrnellas hope more locals will take on personal ownership of the trail.

“Taking pride in what they do – that’s one of the good things about what we’re doing,” Purvis said. “Over time, it becomes a thing of community pride. Admire has gotten into the trail big time. They understand the possibility that becomes these trails. They’re transportation corridors, and the people using them like to go on trips where they can go and do long-distance trails. They’re an attraction of themselves. There’s not too many other things a community can do to funnel people economically into town. They come into town and stop and spend money.”

“The trail offers an opportunity for many groups to get out and exercise, be safe and off the streets,” DeOrnellas said. “A place where they don’t need to worry about vehicular traffic. It’s an excellent environment to have right in the middle of Osage City. So many people can use it for so many purposes.”

“That trail is a trail now,” Purvis said. “There’s a few things that need to be done to it, but it can be used as is at this point.”

For more information on the Kanza Rails-Trail Conservancy, visit