The 19 students and 60 others who attended the Unity Trail ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday received an impressive lesson in the power of one person to motivate a handful of people to make a big difference in their community.
While the official project schedule notes that the trail contract was awarded just two short years ago Sept. 14, 2001 the project has been years in the making, about 15 years, as a matter of fact.
The precise date isn't known, but it was sometime during the administration of former Gov. Steve Cowper (1986-1991) when Soldotna resident Peggy Mullen remembers sitting down with good friends Marion Nelson of Kenai, former Kenai Peninsula resident Kathy (Scott) Flynn, who now lives in Oregon, and Marge Hays of Soldotna.
"We just sat down at the table and talked about the idea of a trail," Mullen said. "We had to do the activist things you have to do when you want to do something."
Mullen noted things have changed since those days. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act now mandates that when road projects are planned 10 percent must be spent on projects such as bike paths.
Back then, there were lots of people to convince the trail was a good use of public money. The early proponents of the trail project, however, made sure it would serve lots of schools making it easier and safer for students to bike or walk to school. For example, among other things, the project provided a lighted pathway for school children between Soldotna High School and Redoubt Elementary School.
Tuesday's ribbon cutting celebrated the completion of 5.5 miles of new pathway construction, which is the finishing touch on the 11-mile long Kenai-Soldotna Unity Trail.
Designed to accommodate pedestrians, bicycles and wheelchairs, the project is much more than a new, safe way to get from Kenai to Soldotna and vice versa. It actually represents a new way of thinking about the two cities. Fifteen years ago, the idea of Soldotna and Kenai uniting and cooperating on anything was fairly new ground. Longtime residents remember some pretty intense rivalry, not always friendly, between the two cities.
It was Mullen who gave the trail its name.
The trail linking the cities is both a tangible and symbolic reminder not only of how much times have changed, but also that the cities and their residents have much to gain when they work together and much to lose when they don't.
And it started with handful of friends discussing an idea and having the persistence to work through the red tape to bring it to fruition.
Hats off to Peggy Mullen and all those she spurred into action to make the Unity Trail a reality.
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