That the Heritage Trail is a valued asset to neighboring communities and all of Dubuque County is not in dispute.
But members of the pro bono Community Planning and Assistance Team believe that with a little legwork, additional ways to maximize the potential of the 26-mile limestone path can be uncovered.
"This trail is on a tipping point, I will say a good tipping point, to be able to be a much greater asset for this community, in terms of a regional resource, a recreational resource," said CPAT member Jean Akers, a park planner and landscape architect.
More than 100 bicyclists, joggers, snowmobilers and other stakeholders packed the Dyersville Social Center on Wednesday to discuss the future of the trail. The meeting concluded the first leg of the four-day CPAT study, in which members will tour, study and discuss the trail at length.
Attendees were shown the results of a nonscientific survey that had been posted to the Dubuque County website. More than 900 responses were gathered over two months.
"We just waned to get some kind of idea of what public opinion was," said Ryan Scherzinger, an American Planning Association senior outreach associate. "It's just to get an idea of what kind of ideas are floating out there already."
The survey highlighted the debate between a paved and a non-paved trail, which Scherzinger said will likely be an issue throughout the study. About 70 percent of bicyclist respondents shared a preference for a paved trail, while 87 percent of snowmobilers supported keeping the semi-solid limestone surface.
CPAT members led guided discussions with breakout groups, hoping to identify what users value about the trail, and prioritize potential improvements.
Phil Helle, member of the Dyersville Driftskippers snowmobile club, said he and his peers "groom" or maintain the trail during the winter months, making it more accessible to all users. A concrete or asphalt surface would melt snow faster and could cause damage to snowmobile treads.
"If you pave it, it will be of no use (to snowmobile riders)," Helle said, adding that the clubs would no longer groom a hard-surface trail.