Making Shenandoah more visually welcoming, addressing safety concerns and enhancing transportation is the goal of the Shenandoah steering committee formed in partnership with Iowa’s Living Roadways Community Visioning.
Rebecca Castle-Laughlin, Shenandoah Steering Committee member, applied and received a technical assistance award, a non-monetary award through Community Visioning. The steering committee worked with Brad Riphagen, a representative from Trees Forever, landscape architects from HDR in Omaha, Nebraska, the Iowa State University Department of Landscape Architecture and Iowa DOT through this award. The committee worked to identify where landscape improvements could be made to give the community a fresh look, address safety concerns and enhance transportation.
Kim Gee, a Shenandoah Steering Committee member, said the first step was for the steering committee to send out a random paper survey on transportation to the residents of Shenandoah. The committee also held community focus groups over Zoom to get a variety of insights. She said the committee then took a look at what five projects would have the most beneficial impact for the focus groups.
The steering committee also set up a booth during the Shenandoah Fourth of July celebration at Priest Park to give the community another opportunity to have their voices heard on what may need improvements around town. Gee said the top two concerns they heard from people who stopped by the booth focused on the Wabash Trace Nature Trail and Shenandoah’s downtown area.
Gee said the committee gave three landscape architects and one intern from HDR a tour of the town. The group discussed how to address some of the top concerns in Shenandoah, such as better signage when entering town. She said they also looked at better signage drawing people to downtown Shenandoah coming off the Wabash Trace Nature Trail, safer crossing at the Wabash Trace trailhead on Highway 48 at Sportsman park, and safety issues of crossing Highway 59 by Orchard Corners.
In the initial meeting with the HDR landscape architects on July 7, some ideas were revealed and what those would possibly look like. The group then met again on Aug. 9 and discussed the projects in more detail.
“It’s always nice to have an outsider looking in,” Gee said. “The first thing they said was we don’t ever know we’re in Shenandoah coming from the North.”
Gee said the Shenandoah welcoming sign sits low and is hard to see when entering town from the north and is placed too far out from Shenandoah. While Gee said the current welcoming signage when entering town is attractive, they could be better located, use some landscaping around them, and solar lighting. During the Aug. 9 meeting, the landscape architects proposed replacing the entrance signs with signs that would be illuminated internally.
A possible solution for safer crossing at the Orchard Corners intersection across Highway 59 is implementing sidewalks along Highway 59 and a crosswalk with markings and a crosswalk button. Adding street trees and other components to narrow down the perception of the highway at the Orchard Corners intersection would give it more of a downtown feel and encourage drivers to slow down.
Gee said the Wabash Trace Nature Trail and the trailhead in Sportsman Park were central topics of discussion. While having the Wabash Trace pass through Shenandoah is an excellent resource, she said, where the trace is on the outskirts of Shenandoah instead of running directly through the town as it does in many other communities is a hinder.
Gee said better signage directing bicyclists to downtown Shenandoah would be a huge benefit. Rather than wait on this project, the Shenandoah Rotary Club received a matching grant and will purchase aluminum signs that will be placed directing anyone coming off the Wabash Trace to the downtown area and then back to the trailhead.
Safety is also a concern at the Wabash Trace Nature Trail Trailhead in Sportsman Park. Currently, bicyclists, walkers, and kids have to cross Ferguson Road by the railroad tracks, checking to ensure no traffic is coming from either direction on Ferguson Road, off of Sycamore Street and behind them out of Sportsman park. The HDR landscape architect’s idea was to revamp the entrance route to the trailhead at Sportsman Park. Instead of crossing Ferguson Road by the railroad tracks and Sycamore Street, they proposed a wide cement path leading people down the north side of Ferguson Road away from the railroad track to a marked road crossing with lights. Gee said safety is in 90-degree angles where you only have to look left and right for traffic. By adding plantings along the sidewalk, it would soften the look and make it more welcoming. The land the sidewalk would run along is city-owned.
Another project that was discussed was the corner of Highway 59 and Sheridan Avenue, where a Shenandoah welcome sign sits with a kiosk. Gee said the sign location isn’t ideal, and the kiosk is not used for anything. Some ideas for this area were to remove the current welcome sign and install an LED sign perpendicular to the street directing people to downtown Shenandoah with announcements scrolling across. The landscape architects said the site could be made into a park by adding picnic tables with a shade pergola making it more welcoming. It was also suggested to add marked crosswalks at this intersection and tie in the downtown streetscape with lighting and curb design.
While the steering committee and architects feel that the downtown area needs to be spruced up, it may be too large of a financial project for the steering committee. But they did look at possible ways they could make small changes to help. The downtown streetscape redevelopment project is now 22 years old. Gee said the landscape architects said communities should spiff up every 20 years to stay vital.
An additional project proposal is to add a Nishnabotna River Park on Airport Road. It would include trails, picnic areas, shelters, access to the Nishnabotna River for boating, campsites, and a nature playground. The structures in the park would be made from material that would withstand flooding, and the shelters would be at a higher elevation.
Once project designs are finalized, the next step will be figuring out how to implement the projects. Gee said before anything, the projects would have to go before the Shenandoah City Council for approval. From there, the steering committee would need to apply for funding through grants and foundations.
Iowa’s Living Roadways Community Visioning website https://www.communityvisioning.org/ gives an excellent overview of the Shenandoah community. Gee said it also shows the history and settlement patterns, tree canopy, elevation and water flow, and provides information on how to develop a community to either mitigate flooding or keep flooding at a minimum.
The Visioning Steering Committee will have information available for the community about their proposed projects before the Shenandoah Homecoming game on Friday, Sept. 17 at Gee Park.
“We want to show people the possibilities,” said Gee.