The City of Van Buren hopes to have a master trails plan by the end of the year.

Dianne Morrison, director of the Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the city then can begin applying for grants to improve Van Buren’s pedestrian and bike trails.

Morrison’s comments came Monday night at the first of three public meetings for residents to give their input. Close to 40 were on hand including City Planner Joe Hurst, Aldermen Jim Petty and Tyler Wood, Parks and Recreation Commission chairman Michael Brammer as well as other members of the parks commission.

Other meetings will be Feb. 13 at the Van Buren Public Library, 1409 Main St., and Feb. 28 at Northridge Middle School, 120 Northridge Drive. Both meetings are from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

Morrison made available two maps showing current trails and a proposed multi-use regional trails plan for the River Valley.

“Nothing has been budgeted yet,” Morrison said, “but we need to know where you want to drive and walk to develop a plan.”

Hurst said comments from the public hearings will be analyzed to determine where to start. Much will depended on the money that is available, including grants.

Brammer said the public hearings will be designed to determine what is best for the city based on what its residents want.

“We have two plots, one 55 acres and another 25 acres, that are untouched,” he said. “We need volunteers to help build walking trails and potentially ridge mountain bike trails.”

Brammer cited a number of possible projects, including trails around schools and parks, a loop around the city and a link to Fort Smith. He also noted that Fayetteville is planning a trail to connect Northwest Arkansas to Devil’s Den State Park.

“Northwest Arkansas will have a trails system from Devil’s Den to the Missouri state line,” he said. “We will be the missing link. We don’t want to be left out.”

Trails along the Arkansas River levee along Arkansas 59 south also were proposed.

Safety was one of the big concerns repeatedly mentioned at Monday’s meeting.

Lorna Armstrong of Van Buren, a running trainer for Special Olympics, said she is looking for a safe place for her runners, who currently utilize Kibler Road.

“It is sometimes hard to get help in watching the runners,” Armstrong said. “I need something safe for eight to 15 Special Olympics runners.”

Petty said the city should consider an awareness campaign.

“We need to educate the community on becoming pedestrian friendly,” Petty said. “We need a ‘Share the Road’ campaign first.”

Wood agreed and asked how the city could go about an educational campaign.

One person attending the hearing said getting motorists to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks would be a start.