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Before the first bits of the Shunga Trail were poured the late 1980s, Bill Riphahn remembers wondering, Who will use this?
Turns out, just about everyone, from kids to Washburn University President Jerry Farley, an avid runner. Runners pound the pavement. Bikes whiz along for leisurely rides. Strollers follow the trail to the nearest playground. You might even see the occasional tricycle or inline skater.
“The first day, the contractor got out there and poured 100 feet of trail,” said Riphahn, director of planning and development for Parks and Recreation of Topeka. “The next day, people were out walking that first 100 feet.”
The Shunga Trail got its start at Fairlawn Road and moved east, generally hugging the Shunganunga Creek. The trail now cuts through town, traversing 7.5 miles and continues to expand.
Once you hop on the Shunga Trail, you’ll pass busy streets, pools, community centers, a disc golf course and plenty of playgrounds. Shunga connects the following parks: Crestview, Felker, Big Shunga, Shunga Glen as well as some other smaller parks. In the Oakland area, a small, still unconnected portion of the trail connects Oakland-Billard and Santa Fe parks.
At times, the path along the Shunganunga Creek is so serene — so removed from the rest of city life — that it feels as if you’re not in the city anymore. At those moments, it turns in a nature walk in which you might just see deer, red foxes, skunks and snakes, Riphahn said. Hit the trail early enough on a spring morning and young red foxes can be spotted near their dens.
Shunga also links to Landon Trail near Cushinberry Park and the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. The Landon Trail follows the abandoned Missouri-Pacific Railroad and is still under development. When complete, it has the potential to connect its most ambitious users with Clinton Lake.
The Shunga Trail continues to grow. In 2010, work is to begin on a section that will link neighborhoods south of Interstate 470 to the Shunga Trail with an underground connection that will allow users to avoid the traffic snarl at Interstate 470, 29th Street and Fairlawn Road. The connection also will help children travel safely to schools.
Also planned for 2010, is extending the Shunga Trail across the 10th Street bridge just east of downtown. The extension will link to the Deer Creek Trail, which eventually will lead users to Lake Shawnee, which is surrounded by its own trail.