A long-rumored trail that would connect Bend with Sunriver for cyclists and joggers has moved closer to reality.

The Federal Highway Administration will provide $270,000 in 2018 for the Oregon Department of Transportation to examine options for a multiuse trail from Lava Lands Visitor Center to Bend. Peter Murphy, spokesman for the transportation department, said the process is just getting underway, but the overall goal is to provide greater access to scenic areas between Bend and Sunriver without the use of a car.

“This is a necessary first step,” Murphy said.

Jean Nelson-Dean, spokeswoman for the Deschutes National Forest, said the trail would connect with the Sun-Lava paved path, a 5.5-mile trail that extends from Sunriver to Benham Falls, and finally to Lava Lands Visitor Center, in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. The trail, completed in 2014, is used by cyclists and joggers, as well as more casual users.

“It’s been extremely popular,” Nelson-Dean said of the Sunriver trail.

While Murphy said ODOT does not have specific routes in mind for the trail between Bend and Lava Lands, the department is considering options both east and west of U.S. Highway 97. He added that ODOT is looking at placing a trailhead along Baker Road, near the southern edge of Bend.

Murphy did not provide a timeline for breaking ground on the trail, but said it would depend on how long the planning process takes. He added that the study of potential routes for the trail will consider factors including the grade of the road and lava flows that might be in the way, as well as businesses along Highway 97 that could be affected by a trail. A partnership with Cascades East Transit could provide transit options to and from the trailheads in the future, Murphy said.

“We want people of all abilities to be able to use the trail,” Murphy said. “Even for completely able people, they might not want to drive there.”

The transportation department has also asked the High Desert Museum, located between the visitor center and Bend’s urban growth boundary, about potentially running the project through its property.

Dana Whitelaw, executive director of the museum, said ODOT reached out about a year ago about running a trail through the western edge of the property, toward Highway 97.

Whitelaw added that the program would bring some much-needed accessibility to the museum, located 5 miles south of Bend. Central Oregon has consistently been the High Desert Museum’s largest source of visitors, particularly in the spring and fall, according to data collected by the museum. Other than prompting the museum to add a bike rack, she said trail construction likely wouldn’t cause many changes.

“It aligns with some of the museum’s goals,” she said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com