The grant, secured through the office of U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD), came through the federal transportation bill. The City of Vermillion must match the grant with about 18 percent, or $165,000, during the next five years.
"A good share of that (money) will go toward the trails we are building and enhancing those we already have," said City Manager John Prescott.
A major part of the plan would feature a four-mile loop along the Vermillion River west of Cotton Park. The plan would also include trails along Cherry Street and a connection to the state trail leading north of the city to Spirit Mound.
The grant and matching funds provide the money needed to make large strides on the project, Prescott said.
"In the past, our trails were developed $100,000 at a time. We might spend $60,000, which is a big chunk of money, but when you pour concrete, you may get six-tenths of a mile," he said. "This amount, when it becomes available, becomes a much larger project than we have ever been able to plan in the past."
The project, part of the city's 20-year comprehensive plan started in 2000, will receive a huge boost of momentum, Prescott predicted.
"It definitely allows the project to move forward, to gain a lot more movement than we have been able to do," he said. "When you consider the city pays 18 cents on the dollar � and you end up with $750,000 plus the local match � that's a huge commitment of money."
An estimated 60 people attended the Jan. 18 public meeting on the project, said Mayor Dan Christopherson.
"This was mostly a brainstorming session," he said. "Some folks wanted a river-type path and some wanted a destination-type path, where it loops the entire community like a bike path."
The meeting included a call for making the trail available for a number of uses, Christopherson said.
"Several people stressed the need for multi-use paths, even for maintenance in some cases," he said.
The grant will allow the city to expand or complete a number of existing projects, said David Nelson, the city director of parks, recreation and golf.
"We want to make a connection of what we have now," he said. "At the meeting, people said they want to start getting a loop and get some bike riding, walking or running."
The meeting provided not only the first major opportunity for public input but also a chance to hear concerns from property owners along the proposed trails, Nelson said.
"At the meeting, they talked extensively about the (landowners') liability if they grant easements," he said.
Nelson anticipates forming an advisory committee as the next step in the planning process. Because of the federal funding, the project must meet federal specifications, he said. The grant funnels through the state Department of Transportation, he said.
Because of the timing of the grant, the city had not budgeted for matching funds in 2006, Prescott said. While some funds could be freed up, the city also needs time to write specifications and bid the project, he added.
"As far as concrete being poured in 2006, I don't think we will have that," Prescott said.
While actual construction may not begin this year, the city could begin tapping into the federal grant for engineering and other costs, the city manager said.
Vermillion residents have shown enthusiasm for the trails project, Prescott said.
"Response has been pretty good. We were surprised by the turnout (at the meeting). It was great, and we had a number of comments," he said. "We are trying to work through the process. This is a huge project, and we like to get public opinion."
Besides everyday usage of the paths, a Vermillion River trail would tie in well with areas where explorers Lewis and Clark once traveled, Nelson said.
The current trails and other facilities have provided the area with a strong quality of life, and the $750,000 grant will take the entire trail system to a new level, Nelson said.
"When my son was little, we couldn't even get to the Vermillion River. There wasn't any access at all," he said. "Now, you have the nature areas and fishing piers. A lot of people hang out there, and there is always somebody walking along the river."
The trail system helps fill the demand for more recreational opportunities, Nelson said.
"It's what people want. They just want to relax," he said.