Expansion of trail system through north Omaha making headway

Community invited to celebrate the first phase Saturday by planting 175 trees on the trail
Communities across the metro are looking to make it easier for people to get around.
Published: Oct. 17, 2022 at 10:30 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 17, 2022 at 10:44 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - On Saturday, community members will gather in north Omaha to celebrate the completion of the first phase of a new trail that’s making the area more connected and accessible.

The North Omaha Trail’s first two-mile stretch, which runs east to west from Metro’s North Omaha Transit Center near 31st Avenue and Sprague Street to the historic North 24th Street district at 24th and Ohio streets, finished several weeks ago.

“You really see the beginnings of a really strong trail network, and that’s for people walking, biking, taking scooters, all types of things,” says Manne Cook, the Urban Development Manager for Spark, the nonprofit organization that is spearheading the North Omaha Trail’s construction and design.

The North Omaha Trail utilizes the already existing pedestrian bridge over Highway 75 at 24th and Pratt streets. Cook says when the highway was built, it disconnected thousands of community members from other areas of town.

“The trail helps with connectivity, for years and years in north Omaha we talked about the lack of sidewalks so it feels that gap, connects schools and churches,” he says.

It’s not just the North Omaha Trail that’s making progress, however.

The Beltline Trail, which travels from north to south also just completed its first phase: a short section from the North Omaha Transit Center to Druid Hill Elementary School.

“It’s relatively short but that was just to make sure we’re demonstrating that this is a project that is moving to construction, it’s not just a plan, not just a concept, this is improvement in the community,” says Eric Williams, a planner with the Papio NRD, who is spearheading the Beltline Trail project.

The two trails intersect at Sprague Street and 31st Avenue, just south of the transit center. It’s for good reason, too.

“They were heavily coordinated to make sure we’re building a network of connected trail projects to really bring combined value to the community,” Williams says.

The Papio NRD is also a partner with the North Omaha Trail, too.

”The idea is to build more connectivity so people can get back and forth where they’re going, to school to the transit center, to home, and to business locations by this network of connected trails and there really are limited opportunities for those types of projects in North Omaha,” he adds.

“I think the importance is really expanding access to modes of transportation. When you talk about transportation planning, a lot of conversations are about the last mile, so the distance from your house to that bus stop,” Cook said. “So this increases access to a lot of bus stops including the North Omaha Transit Station, which has the highest ridership of the stations in the city, so really the main station in Omaha.”

The two trails also meet where an existing third trail, the Paxton Boulevard Trail, has been around for more than 40 years. That connection allows community members to connect to Fontenelle Park.

Phase 2 of the Beltline Trail will begin this winter and will construct a trail through the west side of Adams Park. Eventually, the trailhead will be at Hamilton Street and Military Avenue. The trail is built on a former railroad corridor and is modeled after a beltline corridor in Atlanta.

“This is attempting to replicate the investment in recreation, active transportation, and access to natural resources, and then using that to spur reinvestment in the community, to build locations for artistic investment, and high quality of life for people who live in the area,” Williams said.

The goal of North Omaha Trail is to connect south to downtown Omaha, specifically to the future “Baby Bob” pedestrian bridge, the downtown RiverFront, and the FIRST AVE Trail in Council Bluffs. There are also plans to extend the trail north, to Metro Community College’s Fort Omaha campus.

Both trails with the same goals of moving north Omaha toward a more accessible and healthy future, and away from its redlined past.

“If you look at the Douglas County Health Department maps, a lot of things correlate with this area whether it’s sedentary lifestyle diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity. But also there’s a map that shows lack of trails or access to trails, and that area is also north Omaha, right? So you can trace both of those things back to redlining,” Cook said.

“One of the main themes of the trail is to create an ecosystem of health and healing,” Cook said about the North Omaha Trail. “So from walking and running and exercise, as far as health and healing; but also to some other aspects like connecting communities along the way.”

Go & help

Community members are invited to celebrate Phase 1 of the North Omaha Trail on Saturday by planting 175 trees along the trail. Spark and Fabric Lab will collaborate with Keep Omaha Beautiful, and will also host a community brunch, walk, and give tours of North Omaha.