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      Ottumwa exercise trails divided by Highway 34

      Ottuwma has over 10 miles of bike trails that run through the middle of the community next to the Des Moines River, and next to the Greater Ottumwa Park. However, access to the park is almost impossible from the trails because Highway 34 separates them.The city is applying for a $7,500 grant from Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield to aid in funding to build a tunnel under the highway which would connect the bridge with the park.

      Ottumwa resident Jan Vonderhaar and the mayor both agree on how much they enjoy having the exercise trails in the community.

      "The trails provide Ottumwa with a more friendly experience," said Vonderhaar. "This is a great safe place for families to spend time together, just to go out and enjoy nature. It really beautifies the city."

      Kim Hellige is the president of the trails council and says while many other places do have exercise trails, Ottumwa has something that makes them unique.

      "We take advantage of the Des Moines River that flows through the center of our community and so one of the things that I've always enjoyed about our trail system is that when you're on the trails you almost get a sense that you're not even in a city. You're in nature, you're enjoying the river, you see a lot of wildlife," said Hellige.

      The tunnel underneath Highway 34 would connect the trails with the Greater Ottumwa Park. Crossing the highway can be extremely dangerous, according to the Ottumwa mayor.

      "We don't want anybody trying to cross the highway, it's just not safe," said Mayor Tom Lazio. "From a safety point of view this is a very busy highway, over 10,000 traffic cars a day and we just don't think it's safe to have anybody trying to go across the highway. Having this connecting tube really does promote citizen safety and that's something we are very strong about here in Ottumwa."

      Exercise trail user, and young child, Trey Keith says if he tried to cross the highway, he would probably get grounded. Jan Vonderharr says sheâ??s also concerned about having her, or her family, cross the road.

      "It's a major safety issue," she said. "I'm not sure that I would want to take my children and their friends across the highway so having the tunnel underneath would be very important to me."

      Although the trails are busy already, the city says they hope adding this safety feature will bring even more of the community to one of Ottumwa's best features.

      "Most of our trailheads are handicapped accessible, so young and old, people on bikes, people walking, people running, we see people skating, so it's really accessible to everyone," said Hellige. "We see a lot of people using the trail, every time we open up a new section we see users immediately on those sections using those trails so we believe the community really supports the effort and are appreciative of the efforts to create trails in Ottumwa."

      The process to vote for Ottumwaâ??s project to win the grant has not yet begun.