Pathway project provides safe passage

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PENDLETON — Pendleton Heights Middle School eighth-grader Olivia Link recalls when the walk to the high school for cheer practice and other activities took more than 10 minutes — and involved crossing fields and sidewalk-less roadways.

“If it was snowing, if you saw a car, we’d have to stand in the snow to get out of the way of the car,” she said.

That walk has been shortened to about five minutes — and now takes place along sidewalks and paved pathways, and over a crosswalk, thanks to the recent completion of Pendleton’s Safe Routes to School Sidewalk and Trails Project.

“This has been a great project,” Pendleton Town Council President Robert Jones said during a ribbon cutting ceremony next to a trail on high school property on a recent Friday morning.

The project, which cost about $700,000 and took about seven years to complete; it included the installation of pedestrian-friendly walkways not only at the middle and high schools, but also around the traffic circle at County Road 300 West and State Road 38, as well as stretches extending eastward from the circle to residential areas and westward from the circle into downtown Pendleton. One leg extends north from State Street to the Alvin D. Brown Memorial Swimming Pool, the Pendleton Community Public Library and Falls Park.

More than $600,000 came from federal grants, with about $75,000 in matching funds from the Town of Pendleton.

“That’s a whole lot of money, a whole lot of burritos, and, I think, a very good investment,” Jones told the audience of mostly middle-schoolers.

Middle school principal Dan Joyce said the project addressed a real concern about the students.

“It’s so much safer,” Joyce said, noting that many parents at one point filled out surveys in support of the project.

He praised the town for seeing the project through to completion, and he said the school has “trained our students” to use the the pathways, including encouraging students to exit the north side of the school building, where the safe route to the high school is most obvious.

“We’ve found if you get them on the sidewalk, they’ll stay there,” he said.

Joyce said the project reflects what he knows about the town, that “everybody works together to make things happen for the good of everyone.”

Town planning and zoning coordinator Rachel Christenson said the town needed to obtain easements from the schools and rights-of-way from several property owners to construct the pathways.

While the project was many years in the making, the construction phase began in February and finished in September.

Perhaps the most important opinions about the project are those of the end users — the students who traverse the trails between schools for various sporting and extracurricular activities, as well as to the downtown area to, among other things, meet up with friends and family for dinner.

“I probably use it almost every day,” eighth-grader Avery Cook said. “I think it’s way safer.”

“I think it makes it a lot easier to get from here to the high school,” classmate Jillian Sabotnik said.