Raccoon River Valley Trail Association leadership change has Daniel Willrich of Dallas Center succeeding Carla Offenburger of Cooper as chairperson. Willrich says the association has “a real opportunity to do something big” as the new loop is completed, and the group will have to help more with trail maintenance. Offenburger says “fresh ideas are always good for any organization,” and the six years she’s headed the association is “long enough for anybody.”
JEFFERSON, Iowa, March 24, 2012 — There is new leadership of the Raccoon River Valley Trail Association.
At the group’s annual meeting held Friday, March 23, during its regular monthly board meeting, Daniel Willrich of Dallas Center was elected chairperson, succeeding the founding chairperson Carla Offenburger of Cooper. In addition, Cindy Jensen of West Des Moines and Panora was elected to the position of vice-chairperson, which had previously never been filled. Secretary Karen Sievers of Guthrie Center and treasurer Bob German of Dallas Center were re-elected to their positions. All the officers’ terms are two years.
Offenburger was among a group of five or six people who began working on enhancing and marketing the Raccoon River Valley Trail in 2004. She was elected chairman when the group formally organized in 2006 as the RRVT Association, and had headed the group ever since. She seconded the nomination of the new officers on Friday, and said she was happy to step down from the chairmanship and continue as a board member.
“It’s great to have a younger member of this board like Daniel Willrich step up to be chairperson,” she said. “He’s been on the board for four years, has learned what the organization is all about and will do well heading it. Fresh ideas are always good for any organization. I’ve served, and served well, I think, as chairperson for six years, and that’s long enough for anybody. I’m ready to start using the trail more and working a little less on it.”
Newly-elected officers of the Raccoon River Valley Trail Association are (left to right) chairperson Daniel Willrich, of Dallas Center; vice-chairperson Cindy Jensen, of West Des Moines and Panora; treasurer Karen Sievers, of Guthrie Center, and treasurer Bob German, of Dallas Center. Willrich and Jensen are new in their positions, while Sievers and German were re-elected. Their new terms extend until March of 2014.
As the new vice-chairperson, Jensen will likely succeed Willrich eventually. Board member Jim Miller, of rural Waukee, who nominated the new officers, said his thinking was to continue developing new leadership on the board of directors and formalize the succession procedures.
Willrich is assistant director of store architecture for Hy-Vee, Inc. He is a graduate of Dallas Center-Grimes High School and earned his architecture degree from Iowa State University in 1997. He was a good football player in high school and was on the ISU Cyclones team for a year.
For the past six years, Willrich has served on the city council in Dallas Center and is now in the middle of his second term there. He and his wife Heather have three sons, Levi, 8, Ben, 4, and Seth, 2.
The new RRVT Association chairman has been a trail user since his early boyhood. He grew up in Grimes, and said ”when I was a kid, I used to ride my Huffy bike over to the Neal Smith Trail and ride it. Then when Heather and I moved to Dallas Center 10 years ago, that’s when I started riding on the RRVT. It was when I was on the city council and heard that the RRVT was going to be coming through Dallas Center that I decided that I wanted to get more involved in the trail, something more than just being a trail user.”
The RRVT is 23 years old. For most of that time, it’s been a 56-mile paved trail stretching from Waukee, just west of the Des Moines metro area, to Jefferson. The towns along the way are Adel, Redfield, Linden, Panora, Yale, Herndon and Cooper. But the last three years, a new 33-mile “North Loop” of the RRVT has been under development, and it is scheduled to be completed this year. It runs from Waukee to Dallas Center, Minburn, Perry, Dawson and Jamaica before re-joining the existing trail in Herndon. When that project is completed, it will create a 72-mile interior loop, the longest such loop on a trail in the U.S.
“We’ve got a real opportunity to do something big when the trail loop is completed,” Willrich said. “We should have a gigantic party, something that will attract attention of trail users across the nation.”
Offenburger agreed the completion of the new loop is a big moment for the board, and one that will require extra effort.
“The RRVT Association as an organization has done all the marketing and promotion of the trail, and since we started up, that’s included nine communities and we’ve worked for all of them,” she said. “Now, we’re going to be adding five more communities to our marketing mix. I think it’s good that Daniel is from one of those new communities, Dallas Center. He has a good feel for what we need to do in each of those towns.
Offenburger reflected on the growth of the association during her six years heading it.
“Back in 2006, the three Conservation Boards that own the trail — Dallas, Guthrie and Greene Counties — each donated $1,000 to get us started,” she said. “Now we funnel money back to them. And we’ve grown to the point that we raise and spend $40,000 to $60,000 a year on marketing and promoting the trail. Our association membership gets up around 400 every year, we help sponsor several events on the trail that bring people to all the communities, and we have our annual banquet in February that has sold out every year. As a group that markets and promotes one trail, I think we’re the envy of a lot of other trails around the state and nation. There aren’t many other groups like ours.
“But for a trail advocacy group, I think there’s always room for improvement,” she continued. “We’ve always said the RRVT is ‘becoming one of America’s best recreational trails,’ and I think that’s true. But we need to do more to go to the wider market, beyond Iowa and the immediate Midwest, to get our message out. And, of course, it takes a lot of money to do that — more funding than we’ve had. But the more we can do that, the more people we’ll have coming to use the RRVT.”
Another challenge for the group is figuring out ways to help the conservation boards with the costs of maintaining and enhancing the RRVT.
Willrich said that in recent years, “the weaker economy has forced governments to modify their budgets, and trails probably aren’t going to get as much attention as they’ve had. We’ve started talking about how it’s time for our organization to make another evolution — to go from just marketing and promotion to helping raise money to pay for trail maintenance. We can help with that, and we should help.”
The board is working on ways to facilitate small and large donations to the association that would be turned over to the conservation boards, specifically for trail maintenance and enhancements.
In another organizational matter at the RRVT Association’s annual meeting, three members of the board of directors were re-elected to three-year terms — Willrich, Chuck Offenburger of Cooper and Mark Vukovich of Panora. Another of the founders of the association, Butch Niebuhr, of Perry, decided not to seek re-election to the board. He is city administrator in Perry and is involved in other groups that are taking more of his time. Elected to replace him on the RRVT Association board is Bob Wilson, the executive at the Perry Chamber of Commerce and a native of that community.
The members of the board whose terms continue are Carla Offenburger, Jensen, Sievers, German, Kevin Wilbeck of Rippey, Allan Sieck of Rippey, Jon Doll of Waukee, Dan Juffer of Adel and Mike Wallace of Perry. Wallace, who is conservation director in Dallas County, also serves in an ex-officio position on the board, as do the other two conservation directors, Joe Hanner of Guthrie County and Dan Towers of Greene County.