This weekend’s summer-like weather drew people outdoors to enjoy the sunshine. A new addition to the City of Ottawa’s trail system now can help make the area more navigable for visitors and residents alike.

The city recently obtained a $20,425 grant through the Topeka-based Sunflower Foundation to extend and improve the Flint Hills Nature Trail, which abuts the city limits. The trail will be improved along First Street from Walnut Street to Willow Street to include the construction of a 1,200-foot long, 8-foot wide crushed rock trail connector that will connect the Flint Hills trail with the Prairie Spirit Rail Trail. The trail follows the same path as the former Missouri Pacific Railway, and part of the rail bed still is visible on the north side of First Street. Other amenities to the trail are expected to include lighting, signage and roadway delineators. Bids haven’t been requested yet, but construction and completion are set to occur this summer.

The Flint Hills Nature Trail runs 117 miles across northeast Kansas, linking seven counties between Herington and Osawatomie. Less than half of the trail has been developed, so it isn’t devoid of cockleburs. It still is noteworthy to see the continued development albeit in bits and pieces. Unlike the Prairie Spirit Rail Trail, which largely is for walkers, runners and bicyclists, the Flint Hills trail is popular with nature lovers on horseback. Besides being able to enjoy the namesake Flint Hills, the trail has tall grass prairie, wildlife and plenty of flora and fauna.

Though some people might be more familiar with the portion of the trail going east out of Ottawa, the west portion also is worth a visit. More trails can mean more opportunities for walking paths that encourage increased physical activity, as well as more opportunities to simply enjoy the outdoors.

“The Sunflower Foundation is excited to invest in the City of Ottawa and provide Kansans the environment to be physically active while enjoying our state’s natural beauty,” Billie Hall, Sunflower Foundation president and chief executive officer, said. “For many cities, building a trail is the first step in launching its community’s overall healthy living initiative. We also are pleased to award, for the first time, grants for specific improvements on existing trails, and grants intended to build connectors between trails.”

No sidewalks exist along this portion of First Street, so the trail connection should be a dramatic improvement for people living in nearby neighborhoods, providing a safer path alongside the unpaved street. The trail eventually will allow people to safely traverse the Marais des Cygnes River bridge to get from the Orlis Cox Sports Complex ball fields to downtown Ottawa and back again — without driving, Tom Yahl, Ottawa planner/codes officer, said. That makes for a nice diversion for visitors to the ball diamonds as well as enhancing local commerce.

Those seeking adventure locally should put this trail on their to-do list and let it be the catalyst to enjoy the Sunflower State’s scenic outdoor offerings.

— Jeanny Sharp, editor and publisher