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Editorial: People Trail supporters still realistic about project

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ORGANIZERS of the $1 million fund drive to significantly expand the highly successful system of People Trails in Columbus got both good and bad news recently.

The good news was that the goal is going to be met. As of last week, more than $970,000 had been donated or pledged to the ambitious project.

The bad news is that a hoped-for match from federal grants will not be as large as once anticipated.

That’s the sort of development that would short-circuit many undertakings, this one in particular since there had been the possibility that a successful completion of the fund drive would leverage an additional $4 million in federal money. Unfortunately, the federal funding mechanism that would allow for such matching grants no longer exists.

There is still a possibility that the People Trail effort could receive some grant money, but it will be in competition not only with other trail projects but with traditional highway programs.

In some respects, the bad news is not exactly a surprise. The federal government is being called upon to tighten its fiscal belt, and as efforts to reduce the national deficit continue, this kind of funding is likely to become even more scarce.

While the reduced outlook might be a disappointment to local supporters, they have adjusted in a common-sense fashion — delving into the overall plan in an effort to place priorities on its most important elements.

The current top priority is the completion of the downtown trail connector, a $500,000 undertaking that would link the trail along Haw Creek to the trail along Mill Race Park. The trail would be south of Second Street.

There are a significant number of elements that are being given careful consideration. Some are small in comparison with others, such as $6,000 for signage in the downtown trail district. Others are much more ambitious, such as the $850,000 to create a continuous sidewalk on both sides of 25th Street between Carriage Drive and Talley Road.

While the reduced outlook for federal support is disappointing, it should not overshadow the grass-roots fund drive that has raised close to $1 million in less than a year.

A significant portion of that amount came from corporate gifts and foundation pledges, but there was also an outpouring of support from the public. Organizers reported gifts from more than 100 individuals, and several fundraising events, such as Sneakers at Starlight and Tour de Trails, were highly successful.

The benefits from these efforts will emerge in the future, but the fund drive itself has already produced a highly valued result — community pride.

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