Greenway Park, Gay Lea Wilson, Vern Willey, and a collection of residential trails provides Altoona cyclists with fun options for getting around town. Flat asphalt trails are in great condition and at a comfortable width. A protected pedestrian bridge over 8th street is a safe option for crossing four lanes of busy roadway. Altoona’s trails would be a fun and safe place for kids to ride. There are spots to visit along the trail such as the public library, city ponds, and recreation complexes.
The Greenway Park Trail winds it's way northeast past ponds and quiet backyards. Named after the Altoona community services director and avid cyclist, the Vern Willey trail travels east/west through Prairie Heritage Park and connects to the popular Gay Lea Wilson Trail.
Altoona Tune-Up is a yearly group ride to generate funding for the city’s parks and trail systems. Held in July, there are four ride choices accommodating all ranges of cycling abilities. For details visit altoonatuneup.com
During winter months I prefer Urban rides so I can stay sheltered from the frosty Iowa winds and ride trails cleared of snow. Winter bike rides also tend to be on the shorter side, so riding “in town” is the perfect location.
Arriving in Altoona I used the dog park on NE 64th Street as my starting point. My plan was to ride a loop through town by first exploring the Greenway Park Trail, then the eastern portion of the Gay Lea Wilson and then hook back into the Vern Willey via residential paths.
Information on Altoona's historical figures and events are posted intermittently along trails providing visitors like me a way to familiarize themselves with the community. In Greenway Park I learned I was riding on a former stage coach route. A plaque commemorated the route and told the story of how a harsh Iowa blizzard held the state's coffers hostage.
After checking out the Greenway Park Trail I made my way back to the Gay Lea Wilson Trail. It travels in between train tracks and stands of pine trees before passing by Altoona’s original downtown area. Note: Google Maps incorrectly lists this portion of trail as the Vern Willey Trail.
This was the first time I had explored Altoona by bicycle and came across several sightings I didn’t expect. The first was the A7D Jet displayed on the southern edge of the Sam Wise Youth Sports Complex. Next was the 11 foot tall sculpture Moai Dude by John Brommel Located in Ironwood Park. Hundreds of geese and ducks in Prairie Heritage Park along with the cycling themed bike rack outside the public library were also a delightful surprise.
For some, Altoona likely isn’t top of mind when contemplating where to go for a bike ride, but it should be. This community has done a fantastic job creating a network of trails that are easy to explore with lots of fun things to see along the way.