'Rail To Trail' proposal receives $200k grant; 5 mile trail potentially in play by the end of next summer

The "Rail to Trail" plan that proposes a gravel trail stretching from Platte to Tabor along unused rail lines, has been awarded $200,000 by the state. It is to be used for a feasibility study.

A railroad near Mitchell.
Mitchell Republic file photo

MITCHELL — Perhaps a trail of 75 miles begins with a single, $200,000 step.

The Friends of Tabor to Platte Rail to Trail, LLC, has been awarded just over $200,000 by the South Dakota Department of Transportation. The money is to be used for a study that will determine the feasibility of a plan to create a gravel path that stretches through townships and nature on its stretch from Tabor to Platte.

“We know there is wide support for developing a recreational bike path in southeastern South Dakota[...]," explains Jerome Bentz, co-chair of the Friends group and a regular bicycle rider. "This study will tell us if such a multi-mile bike path on the unused rail line is feasible.”

Announced Thursday, March 30, the money is part of a broader plan laid out by the Friends of Tabor to Platte Rail to Trail that will see two preliminary trails rolled out within the next years, a 5-mile test trail between Lake Andes and Ravinia, and a second preliminary trail built that will run from the east end of the first trail in Ravinia and span 14 miles to Dante. Estimated costs for both hover around $775,000 and $2.4 million respectively, but Larry Lucas, co chair of the Friends of Tabor to Platte Rail to Trail, stresses that these are rough, back of the envelope calculations.

"These are hypotheticals," Lucas said. "The commission wanted to see numbers, so we looked at similar trail projects like the Cowboy Trail in Nebraska and the Mickelson Trail in the Black Hills to project the cost."


By the time the entire 75 mile trail is completed, ballparked to be within 10-20 years, it will span from Tabor to Platte and cross through communities in Bon Homme, Yankton, and Charles Mix counties.

Lucas is hopeful about the timeline.

"If the feasibility study is done in a year [...]and with good support from people, we think [the first 5 mile test trail] can be done by the end of next summer."

However, he also foresees complications on the long term viability of the entire, 75 mile project as of now. "The 54 miles from Tabor to Ravinia have yet to be rail-banked," he says, "and without that, the project will not be able to go ahead."

Proponents of the trail highlight that it will have economic benefits via benefits for the outdoor recreational industry, an area that has increased its national numbers by $100 million since 2012, a project proposal by the Friends of Tabor to Platte Rail to Trail details. Besides economic benefits, the group also champions quality of life benefits the trail will provide, giving residents an accessible natural space that encourages the leading of an active lifestyle.

There have been concerns from citizens and local government officials of cities on the, citing liability and safety.

The Friends' plan, presented to the South Dakota Department of Transportation commission addresses potential issues along with others, outlining six main areas that include liability and safety concerns raised during previous meetings with local government officials and citizens. The proposal states that to counter liability concerns, they are currently looking into insurance coverage that would provide up to $1,000,000 per incident.

Although the project’s costs are over $3.1 million in their entirety, the cost will be spread out over the ten year period that work is expected to run, and is anticipated to receive funding from a wide variety of federal and local sources, as well as a variety of state grants like the one received last Thursday.


For more information and a link to the full proposal, visit The Friends of Tabor to Platte Rail’s website at .

Kai Englisch joined The Mitchell Republic in 2023, where he currently works as a general assignment reporter covering the greater Mitchell area. Englisch graduated from St. John's College in 2022, receiving a B.A. in Liberal Arts. He speaks German and conversational Spanish.
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