House bonding committee hears proposal for Glacial Lakes State Trail
WILLMAR — Since members of the House Capital Investment Committee didn’t have time to take a walk on the Glacial Lakes State Trail and see first-hand how a proposed trail extension could link the New London and Spicer communities to Sibley State Park, the trail was brought to them.
The committee was in Willmar on Thursday as part of a statewide tour to learn about bonding requests ahead of the 2014 legislative session.
One of those requests is a $1.75 million proposal to extend the trail from New London to the state park.
While at a stop at Ridgewater College, the legislators were led on a virtual tour of where the Glacial Lakes trail is now and where supporters hope the trail will be in the future — through the New London-Spicer School grounds, west on Kandiyohi County Road 40 and then underneath U.S. Highway 71 through a box culvert where the trail would take bikers and hikers north to Sibley State Park.
The five-mile, non-motorized bituminous trail extension would serve as the “gateway to the outdoors,” said Jeremy Losinski, area supervisor for the Department of Natural Resources State Parks and Trails.
Losinski had the job of selling the idea to the legislators.
Linking the existing trail with Sibley State Park, which is one of the top 10 most visited state parks in Minnesota, would provide a vital community connection that would improve the local economy and enhance options for exercise and education, he said.
School groups would have easy access to the wetlands along the trail for science education and would have another route for physical education.
Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, a member of the committee and a former teacher and cross-country track coach for New London-Spicer, said the trail could be used for the school track program instead of having kids run on a busy and dangerous county road.
Chairwoman Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said the proposal addresses many of the crucial points the bonding committee looks at when funding projects, including safety, tourism and community connectivity.
Rep. Hausman said recreation trails are no longer “frills” but can help reshape the local economy. “There are multiple benefits,” she said.
This wasn’t the first time the House Capital Investment Committee has heard the proposal to extend the Glacial Lakes State Trail from New London to Sibley State Park.
In 2010, the project had received the blessing of the full Legislature only to fall victim to then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto pen.
During the last four years, the city of New London and local organizations have been building support for the project and talking to landowners along the route where land would have to be purchased and easements granted.
“We’ve been after this project for a long time,” said Dave Lais, a former manager of Sibley State Park and a member of the Sibley State Park Improvement Association.
Lais said two out of every three camping units that come to the park have “bicycles hanging all over them.” The two miles of bike trails inside the park get heavy use but he said there is a “captive audience” for additional bike trail miles and people are “eager” to have biking and hiking access to local communities.
The trail extension would be “great for families,” and it would bring an “economic spin-off” to local towns, said Lais.
As part of the trail extension proposal, the DNR wants to purchase a 68-acre parcel of land on the east side of Highway 71 and a 153-acre parcel of land on the west side of Highway 71 that abuts the state park.
Rep. Steve Green, R-Fosston, asked why the DNR wants to expand the 3,000-acre park.
“Isn’t 3,000 acres enough?” he asked.
Losinski said the additional land would preserve wetlands, woods and grasslands that would enhance wildlife and provide additional trails for horseback riders as well as a route for the Glacial Lakes State Trail into the park.
Also during the meeting, the committee members heard about a proposal to host a veterans nursing home in Willmar.
Getting federal permission to build a Veterans Affairs-supported nursing home in the state is not a sure deal and the state has reportedly reached its maximum number of VA nursing home beds.
But Steve Renquist, director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, said Willmar is ready with at least three different options for hosting a VA nursing home if the VA gives the go-ahead.
The state Department of Veterans Affairs, which helps administer state and federal benefits to veterans, operates five veterans homes currently.
Hausman said there are 1,000 Minnesota veterans on a waiting list to get into a nursing home. She said the state is “rebelling” against the bed limits imposed by the federal VA.
She asked how a moratorium can be imposed on providing more VA nursing home beds when there are 1,000 veterans on the waiting list.
Renquist estimated there are more than 32,000 veterans living in a 50-mile radius of Willmar.
The city of Montevideo also gave the committee a proposal for a VA nursing home there. (See related story.)