More Topeka residents are using area trails to bike to work, the store or school

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The sounds of songbirds and the beauty of nature are among the highlights of Ivan Perez’s bike rides to and from work.

Perez also appreciates the quality of the paved trails he uses to travel between his home in Aquarian Acres near Lake Shawnee and his workplace in downtown Topeka.

“Having these bike lanes is perfect,” he told Capital-Journal. “Some of them are better than the streets we have in Topeka.”

“It’s better for you and for the environment if you ride a bike”

Shawnee County maintains 60 miles of trails, of which 31.64 miles are paved, said Mike McLaughlin, communications and public information supervisor for Shawnee County Parks and Recreation.

Although the county’s trails are primarily used for recreational purposes, they have increasingly become a transportation network in recent years, largely due to the creation of extensions that connect them to each other, the director said. Parks and Recreation, Tim Laurent.

Ivan Perez enjoys a view of downtown Topeka Wednesday morning as he pedals the Shunga Creek trail off SE Branner Street on his way to work.

A growing number of people are using these trails to get to school and work, or to run errands, Laurent said.

Shawnee County celebrated the completion of the county’s last trail project on September 1. It is an extension of the county’s Deer Creek Trail, which runs south from 10th Street SE to Dornwood Park, 2815 SE 25th.

The extension is used, among other things, to provide safe and easy connections to Wal-Mart, 2630 SE California Ave., and Dillon’s, 2010 SE 29th, for residents of East Topeka’s Pine Ridge Manor and Deer Creek Village affordable housing communities.

Signage on the Deer Creek Extension Trail tells users how far Dornwood Park and downtown Topeka are from the SE Deercreek travel route.

Shawnee County’s trails provide an important transportation system for people who don’t have cars, of which there are “a good number” here, said Linda Ochs, retired director of the health department of the county.

“But even if you have a car, it’s better for you and it’s better for the environment if you ride a bike,” Ochs said.

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The bike “a very good anti-stress”

Ochs often cycled between her home in southwest Topeka and her office near SW 2nd and MacVicar Avenue at the Shawnee County Health Department, where she retired as director in December 2020.

That road was about 5.5 miles long, Ochs said.

It included about two miles spent on the Shunga Trail, where Ochs said he could see “all kinds of animals,” including deer and wild turkeys.

“At the end of a stressful day, it was a really good stress reliever,” she said of cycling.

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“It’s very nice, very safe”

A new bridge over Deer Creek near Dornwood Park in East Topeka is helping Ivan Perez bike to work.

Perez said he has cycled to and from work for at least two years on days when the weather didn’t require him to drive. The distance is seven miles one way.

“What I love is that it’s the first exercise that I really don’t consider exercise,” he said. “It’s a stress reliever. Plus it saves me money on gas.”

Perez said he used to find it stressful to cross 21st Street SE to and from work, but he no longer has to because the new trail extension runs under 21st SE.

“It’s very nice, very safe,” he said of his current journey. “I can stay out of traffic.”

Next project will extend Deer Creek Trail south to SE 29th Street

The county’s upcoming trail project will create an extension of the Deer Creek Trail. It will go two-thirds of a mile south of Dornwood Park at SE 29th Street and connect to the Lake Shawnee Trail, the parks department’s McLaughlin said.

Once this section is complete, riders will be able to ride a 20+ mile route along interconnecting county trails, which begins near SW 29th and Fairlawn Road, takes the Shunga Trail northeast to East Topeka, then take the Deer Creek trail south. the Shawnee Lake Trail, which goes around this lake.

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“I think it worked pretty well”

Finding a place to park his bike is as easy as setting up a kickstand for Ivan Perez as he walks into the offices at 800 SW Jackson St. Wednesday morning.

The Shawnee County Trail System connects this community “east to west” and “north to south” while “doing so much more than just recreation,” said county commission chairman Aaron Mays.

This trail system has become a tool for economic development, Mays said.

Such systems attract and retain new families and businesses and are “just really essential to having a vibrant and growing community,” County Parks and Recreation Director Laurent told those in attendance.

Laurent credited County Commissioner Bill Riphahn, who was an employee of the City of Topeka when efforts to develop the Shunga Trail began in the late 1980s, with being the key architect of the county’s trail system.

Riphahn recalled that local officials intended from the outset to create a “wider trail system.”

“We developed a trail master plan, which we still follow today,” he said. “I think it worked out pretty well.”

Tim Hrenchir can be reached at [email protected] or 785-213-5934.

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