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Optimism growing for Bird Island to Olivia trail

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OLIVIA -- After a series of starts and stops spanning more than two decades, there's optimism that the timing is right to develop a recreational trail linking Bird Island and Olivia.

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An ad hoc committee of trail supporters from the two communities is moving forward with plans to develop a trail on the public right of way on the south side of U.S. Highway 212.

The committee met Thursday with Jarrett Hubbard, senior planner with the Minnesota Department of Transportation's District 8 office in Willmar, to discuss the plans, and the cause for the optimism.

Hubbard told the group that MnDOT is willing to work with the two communities on developing a trail on the right of way.

MnDOT's willingness to work with the trail group is critical, said Tom Kalahar of Olivia. "If you guys won't work with us, we're done,'' said Kalahar. "We've tried every other route.''

There have been four separate attempts dating back 25 years to develop a trail without success, he explained.

Committee members, including Mayors Doug Erickson of Bird Island and Sue Hilgert of Olivia, are now going back to their respective city councils to seek resolutions of support.

Other work ahead will include obtaining engineering services for a project, seeking grant funds, and completing an environmental assessment worksheet.

There are plenty of challenges. Hubbard outlined the concerns that will need to be addressed for MnDOT, starting with assuring safety for both trail and highway users.

Trail development is focused on the right\ of way on the south side of the highway. The Twin Cities & Western Railroad runs along the right of way on the north side, raising safety and other issues. Also, parts of that stretch hold native prairie and endangered plants. Part of the area is a designated wildflower route.

Committee members volunteered to meet with landowners along the highway to explain the plans. The members also expressed their interest in moving ahead on engineering and grant writing.

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Tom Cherveny
Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.
(320) 214-4335
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