inPRACTICE / TRAILS: A Galaxy Under Foot
Nathan's Miles // Vinton, Iowa
Trails for folks on foot and bicycle are a savvy investment for communities that want to attract visitors and please residents, but other than the local scenery, there aren't always a lot of ways to make a trail unique.
Or so you might think before visiting Nathan's Miles, the longest glow-in-the-dark trail in the United States, located in Vinton, Iowa. Named after former city council member and project champion Nathan Hesson, who died in January 2021, the two-mile path is open 24 hours a day.
"The biggest goal was to set out to create a more bikeable, walkable, accessible community," said Matt Boggess, director of Parks and Recreation in Vinton. "We're a bedroom community between two larger metro areas. To attract more people to move here, we wanted to create more passive and active recreational amenities."
Making the project unique was a part of that plan.
"When we got to the point where we knew this would become a reality, we started asking, 'How do we make it unique? To not only be an asset to the community, but also be an economic driver?'" said Boggess. "I stumbled on some glow trails in Europe and found a supplier of the stone in Canada, and got a price point where we could agree. Before we knew it, we were in possession of 3,000 pounds of glow rock and we had a successful project."
Provided by Ambient Glow Technology in Pickering, Ontario, the ½-inch Emerald Yellow ULTRA grade glow stone provides a pop of color and a little nighttime magic.
The project was funded with a general obligation bond that was passed in conjunction with street improvement projects. Well-supported by the community, Nathan's Miles is just the first phase in a multiphase trail effort for the community. But the project wasn't without its hurdles.
"The biggest challenge is that nobody has ever done a project like this before," which made it tricky to "figure out the engineering and apply the aggregate to the concrete," Boggess said. "We had to figure out how to apply the stone through the two miles we put it on."
In addition, land issues presented a challenge. "Some of the trail is in rural areas, so we had to make sure farmers still had access to their fields," Boggess said. "Luckily, things prevailed and we have a cool amenity."
Indeed, the trail has gotten plenty of attention nationally and internationally, but it's the local community whose opinions matter most. "People are just floored by it," Boggess said. "It's such a cool thing. People will say it looks like a galaxy, or space on the ground, or it looks like they're walking on glass. We've gotten overwhelming positive results.
"Every time I look up the town, I find something on the trail. I got a call recently from someone in Amherst, Mass. Just as I think it's starting to die down, someone else will call about it. It's been a community draw."
And while Nathan Hesson is no longer able to appreciate the end result, his wife, Ashley, who also championed the project, can enjoy the end result any day of the week.
"The trail goes by his house, and where he took the kids to the park and school," Boggess said. RM