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Construction of a new 6.65-mile long mountain biking and walking trail at Fellows Lake will start Monday, the first phase in an eventual 33-mile, $1.8 million trail expansion north of Springfield.

It will be the newest major recreation improvement at Fellows Lake, which this winter will also see its aging boat marina replaced by City Utilities and a new playground constructed nearby in a separate project.

The “Dirt 66” mountain bike/walking trail project is being funded by Springfield-based TrailSpring, Inc., a nonprofit that has been working to expand biking opportunities in the Springfield area.

“The Dirt 66 Trail System is designed to accommodate entry-level beginners, primarily moderate, and a few advanced trails,” said Jessica Pearson, executive director of TrailSpring. “The Dirt 66 Trails are going to change the dynamic for the region by improving quality of life and creating new economic activity.”

“We know first-hand the power of collaboration and are honored to partner with TrailSpring and City Utilities to make the Dirt 66 Master Plan a reality,” said Mary Kromrey, executive director of Ozark Greenways, which is overseeing the project. “We firmly believe that a robust trails and parks system is critical to our region’s efforts to become an outdoor destination.”

It has taken several years to work out the agreements needed to bring the project to reality.

“City Utilities’ forward thinking of public land use combined with TrailSpring’s leadership in creating the Dirt 66 Master Plan will elevate our entire region,” Kromrey said.  

The first phase of Dirt 66 is a collaborative effort between City Utilities, which owns the lake and land around it, Ozark Greenways, which already manages a 2.5-mile greenway trail through the woods at Fellows Lake, and TrailSpring.

Residents living near the lake got a letter over the weekend alerting them to the trail-building project. 

In the letter, Ozark Greenways says the project should take 20-22 weeks to complete. 

“We would like you to know that you might have to endure some dust and noise issues for selected hours during the day,” Kromrey wrote. 

She encouraged Fellows Lake visitors to be careful around equipment that will be used during the construction phase of the project. 

On Friday, Progressive Trail Design foreman David Renko and subcontractor Branden Schwab were walking the woods at Fellows Lake, marking the trail path with bright orange tape. 

Renko said the 6.65-mile trail will be “an introductory style trail for cyclists” that will offer a “shared-use experience” for walkers, hikers and trail runners too. It will be built on the north side of the lake, with several connecting loops.

Renko said the new trail might cross the existing trail at some locations, but it won’t use the existing trail for any significant distance. He said construction crews will use both hand tools and machines to cut and build the natural-surface trail.

How will the trail be constructed through the rolling forest hills at the lake?

According to TrailSpring, the trail will be built to complement the natural flow of the land. The trail building process is similar to that utilized on National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service’s hiking trails and biking trails.

The Progressive Trail Design team will use hand tools or small equipment to construct the trail tread and back-slope. A portion of the construction will be completed by a three-foot-wide metal-tracked ride-in dozer and/or a three- to four-foot wide rubber-track mini- excavator. The team will then disperse the spoils and compact the tread and back-slope.

The trail surface will be mostly compacted soil varying in width from 1.5 feet to 4 feet. Most of the trail will be between 2-3 feet wide.

Pearson said TrailSpring has financially committed to funding the entire 30- to 35-mile trail around Fellows Lake — at a cost of approximately $1.8 million — over 11 phases of construction.

Dirt 66, drawing inspiration from nearby Historic Route 66, will be the largest network of professionally built mountain biking trails in Missouri when it eventually is built out to 70 miles, according to TrailSpring.

Kromrey said Ozark Greenways holds the license agreements for public trails on CU properties. TrailSpring is the sub-licensee in this agreement and will provide the on-going management and maintenance of the Dirt 66 Fellows Lake Trails.

City Utilities signed off on the current trail project after being assured it won’t impact water quality in Fellows Lake.

“Dirt 66 showcases the ability of the community to develop recreational opportunities while also protecting a vital water supply,” said Gary Gibson, City Utilities’ general manager.

The 820-acre lake about five miles north of Springfield is a popular recreation spot for fishing and boating but is also one of CU’s major sources of drinking water for Springfield.

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