Dark Island Trail

Nebraska

Dark Island Trail Facts

States: Nebraska
Counties: Hamilton, Merrick
Length: 8 miles
Trail end points: L Road (1 mile south of Central City) and W. 21 Road (1 mile south of Marquette)
Trail surfaces: Crushed Stone
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6873191
Trail activities: Bike, Horseback Riding, Walking, Cross Country Skiing

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Dark Island Trail Description

Traversing through 8 miles of central Nebraska, the Dark Island Trail runs from the outskirts of the small town of Central City to the edge of the even smaller village of Marquette. The trail's unique name derives from a local Pawnee legend. The legend holds that there are five lodges of the Nahurak (animal deities), with La-la-wa-koh-ti-to—the dark island lodge—supposedly located near Central City in the Platte River.

The Dark Island Trail opened in 2011, capping off nearly ten years of work by the Nebraska Trail Committee and Nebraska Trails Foundation on converting the abandoned railroad corridor into a recreational trail. The centerpiece of the trail is undoubtedly its 1,072 ft. long bridge, which was originally built in the 1880s by the Republican Valley Railroad. The bridge, which spans the Platte River south of Center City, is now one of the longest railroad trestles converted to a hiking/biking trail in the state of Nebraska. It has been fully converted to pedestrian use and improved with new decking, handrails and several bump-outs for enjoyment of the beautiful view.

Close to Central City, the trail runs through the middle of the Turtle Beach neighborhood and immediately adjacent to the lake which the community is built around. From Turtle Beach to Marquette, the Dark Island Trail runs uninterrupted for miles through Nebraska's famous verdant farmland.

While the trail is open to the public between Central City and Marquette and the bridge has been restored, planned resurfacing with pond ash—a hard material commonly used in farming but successfully used here for the trail surface—along the entire length of the trail is not yet complete. Complete resurfacing of the Dark Island Trail is expected to be finished in 2013; if you plan on biking the trail, just be sure to take a bike with wider tires until then.

BNSF Railway Company, which ultimately ended up as owner of the bridge and corridor through a series of acquisitions, abandoned the entire line from Central City to Marquette in 2004. In the near future, the trail will be extended farther north along the corridor to downtown Central City with a trailhead located at US 30 and 13th Avenue.

Parking and Trail Access

State Route 14 runs through Central City and comes close to Marquette. Take the road to either endpoint and park on city streets. There are signs directing visitors to the Dark Island Trail 1 mile south of Central City and at Marquis Avenue in Marquette, just north of the trail's southern endpoint. As always, be mindful of parking restrictions and respectful of the property of the towns' residents.

Dark Island Trail Reviews

This is a beautiful walk with a little bit of each kind of scenery found in Nebraska. Past corn fields, ranches, and prairie, you'll want a hat for the sun, but there are also beautiful areas of forest with welcome shade. The surfacing still reaches no further south than SR 66. After that all the way to Marquette, you have to walk on old railroad gravel, a little uncomfortable to the feet, but to many, worth it for the views and serenity.
There is also a lot of wildlife to see along the trail. I saw hawks, deer, rabbits, chipmunks, butterflies, and numerous kinds of songbirds. Of course, the farm animals are present; don't miss the miniature horses that you can see from the trail near Marquette. In season, the wildflowers are a treat as well.
There was active preparation for lengthening the upgraded surfacing when I went through. The main down side to the trail at this time is walking on the big sharp gravel of the old railroad bed. Google Maps needs to catch up with the fact that it's no longer a railroad south of the country club into Marquette.

Crushed white rock surface from the trailhead east of the high school to the Hwy 66 crossing, about two miles. Past that, even walking would be challenging. You might be able to ride a fat bike from Hwy 66 to Hwy 14 but that might even be tough. This is still a beautiful trail and the Bader Bridge is outstanding! Lots of work to be done. Who ever got it this far deserves a big round of applause! I hope the debris along the bridge can get pulled out before it takes out the bridge.

Limestone installation is not yet finished between 28th St in Central City and Hwy 66. A hard surface should be in place by mid-July pending acceptable weather. It's still not ready for bikes or strollers.

Accordion

As of August 2014, the improved surface ends just south of the end of the bridge. Across the highway, the surface looks like the original railroad ballast. My recumbent with 26 x 1-1/2" tires handled the smooth dirt just fine, but the loose ballast surface (huge rock chunks up to 2" in size) south of the highway was just not possible for me, and I turned around there. Mountain bikers may be able to handle it, but I'd definitely recommend leaving the road bikes at home.

My wife and I hike dark island regularly. Park at HY 66 trailhead and 2.8 miles round trip to HY 14 and back. Excellent bridge over Platte River. South of HY 66 trail surface is rougher but interesting hike.

A little bit of everything, from a walk in the woods, spanning over the Platte, quiet open country; a great trail to explore!

The walking bridge (Bader Bridge) over the Platte River has over 1,000 linear feet of great river viewing, complete with a dozen benches to sit on with friends and enjoy beautiful sunrises and sunsets on the Platte.

Rode this trail June 2, 2013, nice, clean. Good views of the Platte River. It's a flat trail that has been converted from rail road track.

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