One City’s Journey: Assessment to Construction
The earliest discussions regarding bike trails in Tahlequah started with a group of cyclists, the mayor and some city councilors in 2018, trying to identify land within the city limits that Tahlequah Trails could lease and build trails. This group reformed a couple of times during its initial start-up, struggling with decisions around forming a 501 (c) (3) organization or trying to interlace its goals and objectives with another 501 (c) (3) with a similar mission. Ultimately, Tahlequah Trails became a 501 (c) (3) and began to solidify the organization and establish legitimacy with local donors and investors.
After several failed attempts within the city limits to gain access to land, mainly due to surrounding land owner disputes, eventually, Tahlequah Trails received a lease on county land to use for trail development. The 200-acre property was landlocked by private landowners on all sides but was only 10 minutes from town. A generous landowner donated an acre of land next to the trails to use for parking. This 1-acre donation of land was exactly what the group needed to gain access to the 200-acre county lease and use the 1-acre parking lot donation as a match to apply for grants.
Tahlequah Trails first applied for a Tahlequah Community Fund special projects grant. This gave us the start-up money to apply for an IMBA Trail Accelerator grant and begin construction of the parking lot. By 2020, the parking lot was being excavated and IMBA Trail Solutions Project Manager Steve Kasacek was on the ground in Tahlequah: planning, designing, flagging and bringing life to the 200-acre home of Welling Ridge Trails.
After receiving the entire Trails Solutions master plan and learning sustainable trail building techniques through an IMBA Trail Care School, Tahlequah Trails engaged over 100 unique volunteers, and over 1,500 volunteer hours to hand-build nearly 2 miles of trail.
Tahlequah Trails Association (TTA) has received funding from several local sources: Tahlequah Community Fund, Cherokee Nation, Arvest Bank, and numerous private donations. TTA has recently written a Recreational Trails Program (RTP) grant with the goal of using these funds to hire a professional trail building company to complete the more technical trails within the system.
In May 2022 the community gathered to open and name the 200-acre trail system. The Tahlequah Trails board narrowed down a variety of different names and in the end, Welling Ridge Trails was decided by all that attended the grand opening. The township that this new trail system is located on is named Welling and is well known in the area — a perfect fit. Despite a rainy ribbon cutting, the almost 2-mile trail system was celebrated. Sharing the event with volunteers, supporters, and young trail users brought smiles to all who attended.
The next step for Tahlequah Trails is securing funding for Phase II which will include progressive intermediate and advanced trails and will continue this momentum.