Chris Gosch, Crawford County Conservation director, visited the Crawford County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday to talk about whether the Yellow Smoke Park trail should be cleared and maintained through the winter months.
At present, the trail is not maintained during the winter and no signs are posted concerning winter maintenance.
In recent weeks, the supervisors have discussed clearing the trail during the winter, and the Denison City Council discussed the issue on March 16. Part of the trail is on city property.
Gosch said he had spoken with Kurt Miller of the Hoffman Agency and with a representative of the Iowa Communities Assurance Pool (ICAP) about the risk concerns of keeping the trail open all year.
“If you start clearing the snow, in ICAP’s opinion, it creates the expectation that it’s going to be snow and ice free all the time, so you’d have to do it all the time,” Gosch said.
He said that in the last 25 years, the Crawford County Conservation Board had never wanted to take on that responsibility.
“The longevity of that trail would be diminished a lot if we started putting snow and ice control on there,” said Supervisor Kyle Schultz.
Putting ice melt on a four-mile walking trail would be expensive and labor-intensive, Gosch said.
An alternative would be to put up warning signs letting the public know the trails are not cleared in the winter.
In an email conversation with Gosch, ICAP Senior Risk Control Specialist Janis Hochreiter said, “If the county decides not to do the maintenance, then information needs to be relayed to the public that the trails are not maintained during the off season. From a Risk Control standpoint, this should be done with reasonable signage at the main trail heads and reasonable signage along the actual walking trail. Of course there is no set sign count and the public will always access at different points on the trail so that is why I said reasonable signage.”
Gosch said he asked Miller whether posted warning signs would affect a potential legal settlement amount if someone falls and breaks their leg.
Miller said it would not matter, Gosch said.
“But an insurance company is never going to tell you, ‘Hey, don’t put up signs when you can put up signs,’” Gosch said.
The signs might help somewhat, he said.
The conservation board on Wednesday afternoon approved putting up signs that state, “No winter maintenance; trails may be icy, snow covered or slippery; travel at your own risk.”
Iowa Prison Industries can make the 12-inch by 12-inch signs for $15 or $16 each, Gosch told the supervisors.
Gosch said he would send information about the signs to Eric Martens, director of public works at the City of Denison, to see if the city wants to put up the same signs on their portion of the trail.
Supervisor Jean Heiden said she had attended the Denison City Council meeting at which the trail issue was discussed. She said she thought the city was essentially waiting for the supervisors to decide what they were going to do.
The conservation-approved signs could go up this summer, Gosch said.