NEOSHO, Mo. — The road to Neosho's future has a bike lane.
Jeff Chase, of Neosho, likes what he's seen of that future so far. He was at a meeting last month revealing plans for a single track and bicycle park to be built in Morse Park.
"I think it's awesome," Chase said. "It's pretty much what we had talked about. The city has the money to do phase one, and I think it's going to be perfect."
Chase is the administrator of Bike Neosho, a Facebook group "made to pester the city," he said, as it represented and included people interested in finding good rides and good riders across the area. He said he has been campaigning for such a park with the last three people who led the city's parks and recreation department.
He felt like he made good progress with previous Director Sally Pennington, but when she retired in August, Chase feared progress would be lost.
"I thought all my work would be for nothing," Chase said. "But the new director is even more fired up than her and took off with it."
Work on phase one of the Morse Park plan started before current Director Clint Dalbom was hired. The city in its fiscal year 2020 budget set aside about $220,000 for construction costs. In November, the city accepted a bid of $4,800 from Progressive Bike Ramps, a division of American Ramp Co. of Joplin, to design a project that includes in that first phase:
• At least 5 miles of single track bike trails.
• A half-mile skills loop with features.
• A themed bicycle playground with features.
• A park name and logo.
Dalbom said bids for construction of that first phase are being accepted, with an opening set for Feb. 7. If bids are reasonable and construction proceeds on pace, the trails could be open as early as September, Dalbom said.
The city, however, has already started work on a second phase of the project.
The contract with Progressive Bike Ramps also calls for the design of 5 additional miles of trails. During the City Council's last meeting, the council authorized the pursuit of three grants from the state and federal governments and a nationwide group that could help with construction costs. Dalbom also said the city would turn to the business community for building contributions. With funding in place, construction could start in 2021, Dalbom said. There's even a third phase in mind, Dalbom said, which could include trail connectivity between Morse, Big Spring and Bicentennial Parks, or installing trails on hundreds of acres of timberland that the city owns in southwestern Neosho.
The goal is to have a bicycle trail system that could rival some of the trail networks in northwest Arkansas, Dalbom said. Such a system would help bring new business to the city, including its downtown area, which is less than a mile from Morse Park.
"From the input we've gotten from bike enthusiasts, if we have 10 miles of trails, then that makes us a destination, not a stopover," Dalbom said. "The goal is to make Neosho a biking destination."
That's a realistic prospect, said Debbie Johnson, owner of Bicycle Specialists in Webb City.
She approved of Neosho's plan, especially placing a skills course close to the single track, which she said will make for a day of cycling fun for both kids and adults.
"There are people willing to take off whole weekends and go anywhere for a good ride," Johnson said. "Not just Northwest Arkansas, but the entire state has wonderful trails. It's wonderful what Neosho is doing. That keeps tax revenue in the state and also helps local businesses."
John Hunter, vice president of Progressive Bike Ramps, said in December that Neosho has factors in its favor that do not exist in Northwest Arkansas cities. The park's proximity to downtown will further draw riders who want to enjoy local restaurants, bars and other businesses during a ride.
And those are the places city officials would like to see grow, Dalbom said. Bikers should be attracted to two restaurants, a coffee shop and a microbrewery, he said, and the trail could help other businesses grow.
"That was the focus when we first looked at this," Dalbom said. "One of the justifications to spending city dollars developing this was that the proximity to downtown should have a positive effect on economic conditions."