Making the connection
PAYNESVILLE -- Minnesota Highways 23 and 55 cross one another on the south edge of Paynesville and give the community access to all four corners of the state.
Now, Paynesville has added a connection that gives people in all those corners many reasons to make their way here.
Nearly 100 people were on hand Monday to mark the opening of the newly-completed link connecting the Lake Koronis Regional Trail with the Glacial Lakes State Trail.
The connection means that bicyclists can pedal the Glacial Lakes Trail's 25 miles of paved trail from Willmar to Paynesville, and then start on a whole new side trip. From Paynesville, the Lake Koronis Regional Trail leads bicyclists and hikers to Lake Koronis, where everything from camping at the regional park to swimming at the city beach is there to enjoy.
In a few years' time, regional trail advocates hope to complete the entire loop around the lake, giving hikers and bicyclists alike a safe, 18-mile trail to explore.
Right now, the Lake Koronis Regional Trail offers about 12 miles of paved riding or hiking, thanks to the completion of two new segments this year, according to Jeff Bertram, a Paynesville city council member and active trail proponent as part of the Lake Koronis Trail committee.
"This is going to be there for his lifetime,'' said Bertram, speaking of his five-year-old son Mitchell, who was among the first to take his bicycle on the new trail.
Providing young people with a safe route to reach destinations ranging from the Paynesville Area Schools athletic fields to the city beach was one of the early motivations for the Lake Koronis Regional Trail. Efforts to develop the trail go back anywhere from 15 to 20 years, according to Bertram. The late Richard Mathiowetz had the original vision for the trail; in good part, it's because he wanted a safe place for youth riding their bikes on the Old Lake Road alongside Lake Koronis, Bertram explained.
Today's vision for the trail goes well beyond providing a safe route.
"I do think it's time that we utilize what we have in the western and west central parts of the state,'' said Representative Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar.
Juhnke said the state has done a good job of developing trails in northern and southeastern Minnesota. These trails attract thousands of visitors, boost the local economies and give local residents opportunities to enjoy healthy, outdoor activities.
The Lake Koronis Regional Trail-Glacial Lakes Trail connection trail helps make that all possible here, he noted.
That's already evident in Paynesville, where Bertram said he is seeing more vehicles with bicycle racks than ever before. Inquiries from outside the area about the trail have been steadily growing as well, he said.
There's more to come. Juhnke said there are many in the New London area working to develop a trail connection between the community and Sibley State Park. Like the Lake Koronis Regional Trail, it too would enhance the attraction of the Glacial Lakes Trail as a destination.
The development of the Lake Koronis Regional Trail has been possible thanks to the cooperation and support of all of the affected governmental units, including city, township and counties, as well as a variety of public and private organizations. Bertram said the trail is probably unique in the state in that not one cent has been spent to acquire easements for it.
Private landowners along the trail have a sense of ownership in the trail, he said. Juhnke said that is apparent along the trail: Many landowners have planted flower gardens and done other landscaping to complement the trail.
The most telling story of all about the trail can be seen nearly any time of the day along its route. Bertram said the trail is very popular with lots of different users from the Paynesville area. He sees people hiking and bicycling on the trail from early morning to dusk.
The trail has introduced people of all ages and walks of life to the physical benefits of exercise and the pleasures of the outdoors, including people Bertram said he once would never have imagined being outdoor enthusiasts.