History Lesson: Raccoon River Valley Trail
Here's your history lesson for the day. Throwback to when the Raccoon River Valley Trail wasn’t even a trail! Check out the story of how an old railroad right-of-way became one of Iowa's most popular recreation destinations.
In the late 1870s and early ’80s, a railroad route was built to connect Des Moines with the northwest corner of the state. The line became popular, and after changing hands a few times, the “Milwaukee Road” railroad company took over and widened the track to standard dimensions.
For over half a century, the route was a success. But in the early 1950s, when cars became the preferred method of travel, the Milwaukee Line was discontinued for passengers.
The line stayed in use for freight trains, and was bought out once again by the Chicago and Northwestern Transportation Company in 1982. After some economic misfortune, however, the company considered abandoning the route.
That's when the Central Iowa Energy Cooperative (CIECO) stepped in. They purchased the right-of-way in 1987. After collaboration with the county conservation boards, CIECO agreed to develop a multi-use trail on the tracks, so long as the need for a new railroad didn't arise.
The trail came together piece by piece, and it now stretches 89 miles—with more additions on the way. INHF helped the county conservation boards purchase the right-of-way from CIECO in 2001.
The Raccoon River Valley Trail is a destination for bikers, skiers, birdwatchers or any Iowan looking to enjoy the great outdoors. Though its history may already linger far in the past, there is still plenty to be written.