Mako Sica Trail
WRTC is currently working on a Feasibility Study for a Rails-to-Trail Project that we call the “Mako Sica” (Badlands) trail. Our study is investigating the feasibility for an abandoned railroad bed that extends from Rapid City, SD to Kadoka, SD to be converted to a recreational trail.
Map of Trail Corridor
View Proposed Mako Sica (Badlands) Trail in a larger map
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What was the Railroad that the corridor is on?
The Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad. Once a railroad line from that went all the way from Rapid City to Chicago, Ill., The portion of the corridor being railbanked is from Kadoka to Rapid City it is being restored as a rail trail–a path for bicyclists, walkers, runners, baby strollers and young cyclists with training wheels, wheel chair users, cross country skiers, equestrians and nature enthusiasts.
What was the line’s claim to fame?
The railroad was the route of the commuter and freight train that brought goods to the Black Hills hauled gold and cattle out and even brought President Calvin Coolidge to the State of South Dakota in 1927. President Coolidge’s visit to the Black Hills was a great success for South Dakota. The President’s visit brought the state publicity that could not have been bought with any amount of money. Newspaper and magazine reporters with the President wrote stories about the beauty of the Black Hills. On August 10, 1927, Coolidge dedicated Mount Rushmore, and the first rock was blasted off the part of the mountain that would become Washington’s head.
What is “Railbanking”?
Railbanking preserves rail lines proposed for abandonment by converting them to trail use, while leaving open the option to restore the property to rail use if needed. The National Trails System Act authorized railbanking in 1983.
Railbanking provides two major public benefits by: creating important trails and bikeways for public recreation; and protecting abandoned rail lines from being broken up and sold piecemeal, resulting in the irreversible loss of vital transportation corridors.
The reason that use of a rail corridor for a rail trail is considered an “interim conversion to trail use” is because a railbanked line is subject to possible future restoration of rail service if a railroad company can demonstrate to the Federal Surface Transportation Board that such a restoration is viable.
If a railroad company can demonstrate the viability of resuming rail service, it must compensate the rail trail owner for the fair market value of the property.
The Federal Surface Transportation Board has jurisdiction of the corridor while it is under the railbanking program.
Will the rail trail be linked to any other trail systems?
There are several possible linkages, which the WRTC is investigating in order to maximize the recreational potential of the rail trail.
However, our primary target is to connect the proposed 9 miles of rail trail from the Airport to Rapid City with the existing Leonard Swanson Trail.
The result of this linkage would provide approximately 17 miles of continuous bike-hike trail from the Canyon Lake Park on the west of Rapid City, east to the Rapid City Airport.
Which communities will it pass through?
Rapid City and Kadoka, SD are the two end points of the trail. However, it will also pass through Caputa, Farmingdale, Interior, Scenic, Badlands National Grass Lands and Badlands National Park.
Are there any ghost towns along the trail?
Yes, three towns were born from the railroad and died with the railroad.
CLIMATE: Hot, dry summers; cold, snowy winters
BEST TIME TO VISIT: Summer
COMMENTS: Only a couple buildings exist in the hamlet of Imlay, South Dakota, which is just a grove of trees on the high prairie. One of the buildings is a depot from the nearby ghost town of Interior that was moved there. It can be seen from T.H. 44 on the north side. An abandoned railroad grade exists today. Rattlesnakes are common here. Beware!
REMAINS: A couple of buildings (one is an old depot), a grove of trees.
Imlay was a small town established when the Milwaukee Road extended its line west from Murdo to Rapid City in 1907. When the Dust Bowl drove homesteaders away in the 1930′s, the population declined sharply in Imlay as did in many other nearby towns. One of the existing buildings is a Milwaukee Road depot from Interior, SD.
CLIMATE: cold, snowy winters; hot, dry summers
BEST TIME TO VISIT: Tourist season (summer)
COMMENTS: Currently no souls reside in the hamlet of Conata save for the cattle. Abandoned buildings rest alongside the old Milwaukee Railroad grade. There is a resevoir on the north side of the railroad grade that once served the steam locomotives.
REMAINS: Abandoned buildings and abandoned railroad grade
Conata was a boom town during the construction period of the Milwaukee Railroad from Murdo to Rapid City in 1907. The Dust Bowl of the 1930′s drove many residents and homesteaders out of the area contributing to a decline in the population. The loss of the railroad on March 31, 1980 may have also contributed to the ghost town.
CLIMATE: cold, snowy winters; hot, dry summers
BEST TIME TO VISIT: tourist season (summer)
COMMENTS: There are no residents currently residing in Weta. It sits on a tableland surrounded by geological landforms commonly known as the Badlands. Several miles south of Weta, at a fork in a road, lies untold square miles of the largest Fairburn agate beds in the state.
REMAINS: A couple of abandoned houses; a grove of trees; and an abandoned railroad grade
Weta grew from a siding on the Milwaukee Road in 1907, when the line was being extended westward to Rapid City. With hopes to start new and better lives being shattered in the Dust Bowl of the 1930′s, the local inhabitants fled the area. The abandonment of the railroad on March 31, 1980 also contributed to Weta becoming a ghost town.
Would a recreational trail prevent a railroad from returning?
Of the 104 total miles, roughly 9 miles between the Rapid City Airport & the City of Rapid City have some potential for restored Commuter Rail service. However, A commuter rail for the corridor probably would not attract many new riders, and would cost over $120 million in capital expenditures, and would also create additional yearly operating deficits of $10-15$ million. Nevertheless, the corridor was built for mass transit use and has been retained for just this reason. When and if the merits of transit use are compelling, the corridor could be recalled by state officials for such uses.
Is the WRTC concerned that after all of its efforts to develop a rail trail, the corridor may be restored to active rail surface?
Not really. Rail banking has been around since 1983 and has been applied to rail trail projects all over the country, but the restoration of a trail to active rail service has been a very rare occurrence.
It is a complicated and expensive endeavor to restore rail service and the underlying justification needs to be compelling. Therefore, the WRTC is confident that the public will be the beneficiaries of many years of recreational enjoyment through this project.
It should be noted, however, that if public transportation needs were ever significant enough to justify a return to rail service on this corridor, then it is likely that the WRTC would be supportive of addressing that need, even if it meant the possible loss of the rail trail. In that event, the leasees of the trail would be compensated for the fair market value of the corridor.
How much will it cost and when will it be finished?
That depends. The Rapid City to the Rapid City Airport 9 mile trail cost will be about $1,750,000. A true bargain in trail dollars and that is due in large part to tens of thousands of volunteer hours, and generosity of local donors that we expect will happen. The typical paved trail is much more expensive-about $300,000 per mile, while natural surfacing is much less. There are several locations where bridges have been removed or filled in with gravel. These will add to project costs.
Will eminent domain takings be necessary to complete the trail?
No!! The corridor is already in public ownership. This does not mean WRTC will not be approaching landowners along the trail to educate them on what the trail can become. A few landowners have already been approaching WRTC to get their questions answered.
Will the entire corridor have to be paved? No! In all likelihood, depending on community preferences, the first nine miles will be asphalt but the rest of the 95 miles of the corridor will be a mix of gravel, compacted stone-dust and possibly even some porous pavement sections.
There is currently the Mickelson Trail rail-trail project in the Black Hills why do we need another?
Support for a trail from Rapid City to the Badlands has grown steadily over the past few years. Rapid City has seen a growth in trail related tourism as well as special events that might be held on the trail. Other communities along the rail corridor can see the economic benefit of having this trail. Generally trails of this magnitude do not just happen. As with the Mickelson large numbers of visible and vocal supporters, political support at the state and local levels, and extensive media coverage were essential. Stay involved in whatever way you can. Join the West River Trails Coalition. Ask candidates questions about what they will do if elected. Let your local newspaper know your thoughts as well. Being quiet never got any rail trail built in South Dakota.
What is the next step in the project?
Contrary to popular belief, no one yet holds leases to the rail corridor, which currently remains in the ownership of the State of South Dakota Railroad Authority.
Therefore, the next step in the project is to find entities to hold the lease. Rapid City is currently considering leasing the 9-mile section to the Rapid City Airport, however no other entity has come forward to lease any of the other sections. Should no one step up to help lease the property the WRTC Board will have to decide if the organization wants to lease the other 95 miles.
Considering no one does not formally lease the property yet, is it OK for the public to make use of the corridor for walking or jogging?
The property is still owned by the State of South Dakota, and any use of the corridor for any purpose is considered trespassing.
It should also be clarified that even after someone assumes a lease of the property, the corridor will still be closed to the public since various portions are not deemed safe for public access or use.
The corridor will be open to the public for recreational use only after development of the rail trail is complete.
Assuming that all goes well with due diligence and that the some entity leases some of the rail corridor, what happens next?
The first step in the process of actually developing the rail trail is to hire a consulting engineer with practical expertise in the construction of rail trails.
The WRTC has recently talked to several consultants that could be used for engineering and design services.
During the course of the lease negotiation process, WRTC will begin conceptual design work, but final engineering and design plans will not be completed until after a lease has been satisfied.
Once final engineering and design plans have been drafted, they will be presented to the municipal officials and the public for review and comment.
How long do you anticipate the planning and design phase to last?
That is yet to be determined and will depend on the unique site conditions that our rail corridor present to the design and engineering team, as well as other project-related considerations.
Various factors such as soil type, drainage improvement needs, structural integrity of bridges, at-grade road crossings, potential parking and access points, adjacent land use, available funding, and public opinion all have to be analyzed and incorporated in the design and planning process before we will have a blue print from which the project will be constructed.
Do you have a tentative schedule or even a best guess for completion of the rail trail?
Assuming someone steps up to lease the entire corridor in 2010, then our “best guess” is that the planning and design phase will be completed sometime in 2011/12 and that construction will start when money is found to build the first phase.
Do you have a cost estimate for constructing the rail trail?
No, because there are too many unknowns at this early date to allow for such an estimate.
Basic estimates of construction cost per mile of rail trail are available from the Rail-to-Trails Conservancy, which vary considerably depending on the type of surface applied (e.g., asphalt can run $200,000-$300,000 per mile compared to $80,000-$120,000 per mile for crushed stone).
However, even these highly variable estimates can be off by a factor of two or three depending on drainage requirements, the possibility of bridge repairs, development of parking areas, etc. For these reasons, providing an estimate at this point in the project could be misleading.
Once we can hire a consultant to complete the engineering and design work, we will have a much better idea of construction costs, which will be posted on this site at that time.
How will the WRTC pay for the construction of the rail trail?
The WRTC is actively researching grants and other funding opportunities for development of the rail trail. Grants such as Land and Water Conservation Funds and the Recreational Trails Program grants will be looked at for possible funding.
What type of surface will the rail trail have?
Based on a review of existing rail trails, it is apparently not uncommon for some trails to have multiple surfaces, with high-use portions having a hard surface and low-intensity sections constructed with a crushed stone surface.
In and around each community the WRTC intends to provide the best possible recreational experience to the public that can be reasonably afforded.
In most cases, that translates to a hard or paved surface, which while costing up to two or three times as much as a softer surface such as crushed stone, is much less expensive to maintain and provides for a greater diversity of uses.
No decision has been made at this time, but public preference and the expert opinion of our consultant will contribute to this important design decision.
What types of uses will be allowed on the rail trail?
The final decision on allowable uses has not yet been made and will ultimately depend on several factors, including who the lease holder is, the surface of the trail, public preferences, and expert advice from our consults.
At this time, we are looking at a wide range of multi-seasonal, recreational uses that do not conflict with other users, do not pose a risk to public safety, and do not increase the cost of trail maintenance or repair.
Will any particular uses be prohibited?
No use of the rail trail by motorized vehicles, including ATVs, motorcycles, dirt bikes, and snowmobiles, will be allowed.
Exceptions will be made for motorized wheel chairs and necessary access by maintenance and emergency vehicles.
Will the rail trail be accessible to handicapped users?
Design standards for parking, access, and recreational use will include provisions for physically disabled or otherwise handicapped members of the public.
Will the rail trail be plowed for use during the winter months?
Possibly, sections around each community will be plowed depending on a communities commitment to keeping the trail open. Otherwise the answer would be no. However, in an effort to promote multi-seasonal enjoyment of the facility, parking areas will be plowed to allow access to the trail for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
What opportunities for public input and participation will there be as the project moves forward?
Public input will be an important contributor to decision making in the planning and design phase of this project.
In addition to soliciting public feedback at one or more public meetings the WRTC will convene, the public is also encouraged to submit suggestions, ideas, and questions to the WRTC at any time during the course of this project (see contact information at the end of this page).
The WRTC also intends to reach out to the individual municipalities and to various interested organizations to gain the benefit of their input.
Finally, we are putting together a very well organized and dedicated volunteer support group, who will be instrumental in collecting public opinion and communicating those ideas.
We anticipate our group of volunteers will be a valuable asset to the long-term success of the rail trail project.
Who should I contact if I have any questions that are not addressed in this FAQ or want to request additional information?
There are several WRTC officials involved in the rail trail initiative, each of whom has a particular area of expertise that he or she brings to the project.
Therefore, given the wide range of possible questions, all inquiries are being directed to the WRTC Executive’s Officers, who will direct specific questions to the individual best equipped to provide an answer:
You can write to WRTC P.O. Box 1133, Rapid City, SD 57709 or Call 605-631-0117.
Questions or requests for further information can also be sent by email to: FutureFocusConsulting@midco.net.