Event is celebrating new grant that will fund a variety of improvements for the Ochoco Creek bike path

by: RAMONA MCCALLISTER/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - This stretch of the Ochoco Creek bike path is not well-lit after dark, and causes concern for some walkers and bikers after dusk.

The state of disrepair of the Ochoco Creek bike path is an ongoing issue in the Prineville Community, and due to a turn of events, this will soon change.
   Last December, the City of Prineville applied for a federal grant through Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to replace and improve the current infrastructure of the bike path. The City recently announced that they have received the ODOT Flex Fund Grant in the amount of $584,000, and the City is working on the grant in partnership with the Rimrock Health Alliance and the Crook County Parks and Recreation District (CCPR).
   To mark this achievement, the Crook County-Prineville Chamber of Commerce is hosting a celebration at the covered area of Ochoco Creek Park this week. In addition to lots of food and celebrating, the Path to Success committee is co-hosting the event and is asking for input from the community on other points of concern or ideas for upgrades on the project.
   “It’s to make people more aware of what is happening, and to get them involved,” pointed out Jeannie Searcy, Crook County Parks and Recreation business manager. “It may also get some possible support financially and physically to get some of things done that the grant doesn’t pay for.”
   Some of the items that have been addressed include lighting and exercise equipment along the trail. Searcy said that they have been looking for some time at the possibility of having exercise equipment stations along the trail. What they are considering is expensive, however, with estimates coming in at $15,000 to $30,000.
   Prior to the grant application, the City of Prineville, Crook County Parks and Recreation, and community residents had conducted a health impact assessment that determined one of the priorities of the community was a safe and improved bicycle path.
   “It’s extremely important in this community because of our obesity rate and because of our disease rates, and we really need to work on our infrastructure for encouraging bicycling and walking,” said Health Educator for the Crook County Health Department Kris Williams, in an interview earlier in the year.
   As the project moves forward, City of Prineville Street Supervisor Scott Smith said that there is a 10 percent matching portion of the grant, which will require local funds of approximately $58,400. Community Health Improvement Partnership (CHIP) has agreed to dedicate funds towards the project. Crook County Parks and Recreation is also looking at a recreational trails grant that is available through Oregon State Parks—which they will be able to apply for in October.
   Smith noted that the first step of the process after the grant was awarded included a mini request for proposal (RFP) that was submitted by ODOT and the City for preliminary design and engineering to qualifying firms in ODOT’s statewide pool. Smith said that four applicants sent in RFPs, which were then scored by three members of the City staff based on ODOT scoring criteria.
   “It was a very confidential process,” said Smith.
   He added that once the applications were scored, they were then reviewed by ODOT staff. The successful engineering firm is negotiating a contract with ODOT to provide the design and engineering elements of the project.
   “We are kind of in a holding pattern right now,” said Smith.
    He said he has not seen any updates on the contract negotiations. He explained that even though the City was awarded the funding, they don’t have much input on this part of the process. Smith said that if this project follows the timeline of the Safe Routes to School, it will probably begin construction in no less than one year.
   The Ochoco Bike Path project will remain on the same footprint as the current bike path from Third Street to Harwood Street. Smith is hoping that they can refurbish the entire length of the current path, but a lot will depend on the progression of the grant and associated costs. He said the biggest costs are in the preliminary design and engineering.
   “Once the engineering firm has a signed contract and is given notice to proceed by ODOT, Parks and Recreation and City staff will participate in elements of the design and engineering of the project.”
   The celebration for improving the bike path will be at the covered area in the Ochoco Creek Park on Sept. 27, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. For more information call 541-447-5165.
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