If it’s Monday in the spring, summer or fall, Newton native Scott Carkhuff can usually be found in fifth gear on the open road.
“I’ve always been into sports — football and basketball. But I got a little tired of playing big sports, so I started looking for something else and bought a road bike,” the 32-year-old Carkhuff said. “I got into triathlons and did an Iron Man. It keeps me going.”
The local cycling enthusiast begins his trip at the Newton YMCA and rides toward Iowa Speedway and the Christian Conference Center. But he’s rarely alone.
When Carkhuff first approached Newton YMCA Associate Executive Director Rhonda Robson about the idea of forming a Newton cycling group, he didn’t know if anyone outside his immediate friend circle pedaled. The YMCA gave the group a couple of free passes and water bottles to hand out as incentives, and they launched a Facebook group.
The group now has 80 riders — 10 to 20 of whom gather every Monday at 5:15 p.m. for a 12 to 20-mile ride. During the winter, many in the group join the YMCA’s spin classes to keep up their cycling skills.
The Newton rider is excited about expanding interest in cycling, but the sport’s growth in Jasper County, Carkhuff said, is largely dependent on trails.
“I don’t think people understand how much commerce comes with a bike trail. We need to get hooked up with the Chichaqua Trail,” said Joe Urias, owner of Mojo Cycling of Newton. “It’s not so much about us getting out, it’s about the people from Des Moines getting in. Nobody heard of Woodward four years ago. There’s bars that come along with it, there are bike shops. The commerce that comes with 1-mile of bike trail is 10 times more than 1 mile of road.”
Trail proponents in Newton are still hoping for development of a network around the city which connects to Highway 14 and the Chichaqua Valley Trail. For Urias, developing trails to connect Newton with these other trail networks is a no brainier.
“I know that the city councils and (Jasper County) Board of Supervisors are wanting to put in more trails, but it costs money,” Urias said. “I understand that. We have to look at the gains and the rewards. There’s so much money involved.”
Jeff Cook is the president of the Friends of the Chichaqua Valley Trail — a nonprofit group involved in fundraising and event planning for the trail, which extends from Baxter in Jasper County southeast to Bondurant and Beriwick in Polk County.
Chichaqua Valley Trail (CVT) use overall, Cook said, has expanded exponentially in the last four years. Trackers posted on the trail in Polk County keep data on CVT users. Combined with data from Jasper County Conservation, the CVT saw 218 users in 2012 and by 2015 spiked to 2,460.
Jasper County Conservation Director Kari Van Zante said one computerized tracker was recently purchased for the Mingo to Ira leg of the CVT and will be operational by this spring. She said the tracker will give community planners a more accurate picture of trail use, which will help secure grant money for upkeep and expansion.
“It’s helpful for us to track the numbers for grant applications and see the use before and after the section between Mingo and Ira was (repaired),” Van Zante said. “It’s nice to have those numbers so when we spend money we can tell people why it’s so good.”
The county is investing in trails, and officials believe they are positive for economic growth in Jasper County. In April 2015, Jasper County Conservation announced the department was awarded $280,000 in project funds by the Central Iowa Regional Transportation Planning Alliance to repair 3.7 miles from the east end of Ira to the Indian Creek Bridge near Mingo. This now has Baxter and Ira connected to the Gay Lea Wilson trail and the Des Moines metro trail system.
This year is the trail’s 30th anniversary, and Cook said the friends group are planning multiple events which will bring people to towns along the recreational path. Prairie City, Monroe and Jasper County conservation are also busy developing a trail to connect bike riders in those towns with Mitchellville and eventually Des Moines and Pella.
What many businesses on the High Trestle Trail in north-central Iowa will tell you is trails are good for business.
Urias opened Mojo in November 2010; it was the first bike shop in Newton since the 1990s.
Since the ribbon cutting, Urias’ business has grown each year, which the biking enthusiast credits to the increasing popularity of the sport in central Iowa.
One biking event which Urias hopes catches on is Annie’s Ride. In October 2016, the inaugural 80-mile ride which launched from Iowa Speedway en route to Pella and Lake Red Rock raised more than $37,000 benefiting the Mercy Ruan Neurology Clinic. The ride also had a 40-mile route and a 10-mile family route.
Uris doesn’t think the ride got enough publicity, and hopes the second annual ride will grow.
According to Bike Iowa’s website, Annie’s Ride is moving to downtown Des Moines in 2017, but Urias still believes if Newton wants a bike ride, “this could be it.”
“Look at the bike trails,” Urias said. “They’re going all around us. I don’t want Newton to get left out here.”
Contact Mike Mendenhall at email@example.com