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Bird Island, Minn., Olivia revive aspirations for trail that links towns

OLIVIA — Aspirations to develop a recreational trail to link the Renville County communities of Bird Island and Olivia are being revived.

More than two dozen supporters of the idea joined a meeting of the Olivia and Bird Island park boards last week in Olivia to explore the possibility.

Most attending responded affirmatively to the question posed at the meeting’s end by Dan Coughlin, city administrator in Olivia: “Who is along for the ride?’’

The tougher questions are ahead. The challenge will be finding both the funding and the route to make it possible, he and others at the meeting noted.

The idea of pursuing a trail between the two communities was raised anew recently by Julie Osterfeld, a member of the Bird Island park board.

Steve Altmann, chairman of the Olivia park board, said efforts for a trail had been launched in the early 1990s, when the Bird Island and Olivia schools joined, and again about 10 years ago.

“There was so much information gathered and so much support for it,’’ said John Neubauer, who helped lead the last effort. “But we tried to run before we crawled.’’

The issue of where to develop the route became the stopping point, he explained.

Now it may be the starting point. The possibility of developing a route along the right of way for U.S. Highway 212 was the focus for most of the discussion.

According to Jarrett Hubbard, senior planner with the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s District 8 in Willmar, MnDOT is open to the use of existing right of way for trail purposes when the trail is on a different grade and with adequate separation from the highway.

Hubbard cautioned that big hurdles must be addressed first, however. A trail would only be allowed if safety concerns for trail and highway users are met. Also, a trail would not be allowed if it disrupted water drainage along the road.

A trail is not likely to be allowed along the right of way belonging to the Twin Cities & Western Railroad, which parallels the highway between the two communities. Mark Wegner, CEO and president of the TC & W, said the railroad does not encourage rails with trails due to safety concerns.

Other options discussed at the meeting included those looked at 10 years ago, ranging from following Ditch 66 between the communities to using township or county roads.

Many of those attending said they see a trail between the two communities as the first step toward eventually connecting all communities in the county, as well as to other regional trails.

The economic and health benefits, and desire to encourage more outdoor activities by young people, were cited as motivations.

Coughlin cautioned that trail development should be taken on as a “long-haul endeavor.’’ He also cited examples of success, and offered encouragement. “If this is a priority for communities, it will happen eventually. It may not be tomorrow or next year, but if we lay the foundation for a good effort today, it will certainly improve the chances as we move along.’’

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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