Mitchell transportation survey reveals need for bike trail, shared-use path improvements, better connectivity

From connecting more trails throughout the city to adding lights for night riding, the traffic study survey respondents are providing city officials with some suggestions to consider.

Shown here is a map of the city's plans to install bike trails, shared-use paths and sidewalks to provide better pedestrian connectivity throughout the Mitchell.
Sam Fosness / Republic

MITCHELL — As warmer spring weather sets in, Mitchell’s bike trails are getting busier by the day.

While Mitchell’s biking trails and shared-use paths see frequent traffic in the spring and summer months, Mitchell residents who participated in the city’s traffic study survey have indicated the trail systems are in need of improvement.

“We’ve heard a lot of comments that there are gaps in the bike trail system,” said Jonathan Wiegand, a project leader with the engineering firm that’s leading the traffic study with the South Dakota Department of Transportation.

From connecting more trails throughout the city to adding lights for night riding, the survey respondents are providing city officials with some suggestions to consider.

As an avid bike trail rider and local bike shop owner, Cody Denne said the biggest area in need of improvement is connecting the gaps of the trail system throughout the city, including the Lake Mitchell trails.


“We have the worst paved trail system of all the big cities in the state of South Dakota,” Denne said, pointing to Watertown’s trail system as an example of a blueprint Mitchell could follow. “The trails in Watertown connect around the entire town, and they are nicely paved.”

Denne has been one of many Mitchell residents who has been actively participating in the city’s transportation study that began in January. The multifaceted $50,000 traffic study is aiming to help produce the city’s 20-year master plan that outlines future projects to improve transportation throughout Mitchell, such as road construction projects, stop light improvements and expanding walking paths, to name a few.

While Mitchell residents who participated in the traffic study survey that closed on Feb. 11 are pushing for better bike trails, the city has already had their eye on improving some of Mitchell’s most widely used walking and biking trails.

Thomas Gulledge, fitness coordinator at Mitchell's Recreation Center, recently secured a $94,000 grant from the state’s Land, Water and Conservation Fund that will fund the installation of lights along Dry Run Creek trail. The trail that stretches through the heart of the city and connects to two major roads will soon be lit up for night bike riders and runners.

Shown here is the Dry Run Creek trail where the city is installing a lighting system for night time path users.
Matt Gade / Republic

“Initially, the focus was on lighting trails around the lake, but I wanted to focus on the inner-city areas and trails since it’s in the middle of Mitchell and connects to main thoroughfares,” Gulledge said. “The trail gets a lot of use the way it is now without lights, but the lights would only increase that, as people could use it in the early hours of the morning and at night.”

Denne said lighting up the Dry Run Creek trail will have a major impact on the local bike community, which he says is continuing to grow. However, he said there are plenty more trails in Mitchell that need lights installed.

“I hear a lot of people who come into my shop tell me they like biking or walking the trails in the late evenings, but they won’t risk it because of the pitch black trails. It’s dangerous to try and trail ride at night when there are no lights around,” Denne said. “We got all these trails, but there are limited times you can use them because there aren’t lighting systems.”

Denne pointed to the trail gaps along the Highway 37 bypass on the west side of Mitchell as an area that needs to be addressed, which city leaders have had on their radar for several years.


Riders take begin their roughly 14-mile bike ride on July 2, 2021, at the Corn Palace Plaza. The bike riders trekked from the Corn Palace Plaza to the Lake Mitchell bike trails.

Prior to the traffic study, the city unveiled its plan to install several trails on the north and west sides of Mitchell, where the existing trails are met with dead ends. As part of the city’s plan, Terry Johnson, engineering supervisor with the city, said the goal is to install a 10-foot wide shared-use path that would stretch from 23rd Avenue to the Lakehouse restaurant along Highway 37.

“People coming from the city could have a way to go to a place like the Lake House without having to cross the highway or drive,” Johnson said during a 2020 DOT meeting in Mitchell.

Future plans also include adding a bike trail from the north side of the bypass spanning to Minnesota Street and installing shared roadway paths on portions of Foster, Kimball and Minnesota streets. In addition, the plans entail adding shared roadway paths along Seventh Avenue stretching east and west.

Bridging gaps between Lake Mitchell and inner-city

The Lake Mitchell biking and hiking trail system has been one of the city’s most unique outdoor recreation features added to the community in recent years.

For trail users who reside in the inner-city, trekking to the lake trails can be a challenge due to the lack of paths and trails that connect to the lake on the north edge of Mitchell. Johnson said providing pedestrian access to businesses and areas around the lake has been a goal for more than a decade.

Updated map information and bike path improvements have been made all along Lake Mitchell, including at the start of the Bill Platz Memorial Trail at Kiawanis Woodlot Park. (Matt Gade / Republic)
A map that shows the biking and hiking trail system along Lake Mitchell. Mitchell residents are pushing to get more trails installed to provide a trail system that stretches along the entire lake.
Republic file photo

To connect the lake and inner-city, Johnson said the city has plans to install a shared-use path in conjunction with the upcoming DOT-led Highway 37 reconstruction project that will bring roughly $16 million in improvements to the highway road. DOT officials say the shared-use path that’s proposed to be installed along the eastern shore of the lake would entail a bridge that crosses over Lake Mitchell’s spillway dam.

“The city and the DOT have been working closely together on how we can create a better pedestrian access route from the middle of town. We want to create a good path from the lake and soccer fields all the way throughout the city,” Johnson said at the DOT meeting, noting the shared-use path would stretch to National Guard Road.

As a frequent trail rider, Denne said adding on to the existing trails around the lake in a way that connects them along the entire 693-acre body of water would be an “ideal way” to enhance the trail system.


“After the west end bridge, the trail just stops at Sandy Beach,” Denne said.

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
What To Read Next
Get Local