Work is finished and the barriers are down at the Cotton Belt Trail, the $4.5 million hike-and-bike route that has taken more than three years to build.
Now city officials are expecting a steady stream of visitors, with spring less than a week away.
“I’ve been getting calls and emails about it,” Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr said. “People are really excited. . . . It’s at least a citywide draw, and maybe a regional draw.”
The 2.5-mile concrete trail parallels U.S. Highway 84 West along the old Cotton Belt railroad line, crossing the wooded South Bosque River near Old Lorena Road. The trail is lighted and handicap-accessible.
The trail begins at a new neighborhood park, Trail Blazer Park, on Harris Creek Road, featuring a gazebo and a circular walking path. Its terminus is near the Waco Regional Landfill on Hannah Hill Road.
The project was largely completed and unofficially in use in 2011, when work stopped because of a dispute between the contractor and the city about cracks in the concrete. The trail entries have been blocked for the last year or so, as the city worked to get the project finished under a new contractor, Barsh Construction of Waco.
City parks director Rusty Black said the contractor finished the last work item this week, an irrigation system at Trail Blazer Park. He said the city likely will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the project in the next couple of weeks.
Nancy Goodnight, a triathlete, member of the Waco Striders and race director for the Miracle Match Marathon, was delighted to hear the news this week of the trail opening.
“I’m absolutely thrilled with that,” she said. “I’ll go out there tomorrow.”
Goodnight, a resident of the Hidden Valley neighborhood off U.S. Highway 84 West, was using the unfinished trail until it was blocked off. Since then, she has been running along Old Lorena Road, where she has had to watch out for speeding traffic.
She said the new trail offers a quiet, peaceful run with scenic views and wildlife, such as turkeys. She said it could be a good place for a race.
“You could get a 5K out of that easily, with no road closures at all,” Goodnight said.
The project was funded by $2 million in federal funds secured in 2004, plus money the city of Waco set aside to relocate park facilities in the expansion of Lake Waco.