New trail route around NLS gets favorable review
NEW LONDON — An alternate route for a short leg of the yet-to-be-built extension of the Glacial Lakes State Trail from New London to Sibley State Park is in the works.
To make the plan work, however, the state Department of Natural Resources will need to persuade a landowner to sell a piece of property.
That's a process that could take a year to complete, said Kent Skaar, senior project manager with the DNR.
In August, the New London-Spicer School Board nixed a DNR plan to bring the trail through the district's outdoor classrooms and school nature area on the south edge of school property.
After that decision, the DNR, school district and other community partners met in September and agreed to seek a compromise.
NLS proposed bringing the trail through school parking lots and alongside a service-vehicle road the district is considering building through the middle of school property for buses to travel between the elementary school and the middle/high school.
But at a meeting Tuesday with community partners, the DNR said the school's proposal to bring the trail through congested parking lots and on a road — even one that would be used only twice a day by buses — without a separation of grass or fence would not be desirable and would not meet the goals of the state trail.
Skaar said the DNR instead prefers a new plan to use the existing sidewalk on the east side of the school and then bring the trail through a section of woods and wetland sandwiched between the school's northern boundary and Kandiyohi County Road 40.
The plan would include a bridge over a wetland, and the trail would angle through wooded property — currently privately owned — and run along the northern edge of the elementary school's playground. A tunnel would go under County Road 9 near the entrance to the elementary school.
The rest of the proposed route remains the same, with the trail continuing west along County Road 40 all the way to U.S. Highway 71, where another tunnel will be built in 2018.
Skaar said if the DNR's preferred route is "something the school district and the community can accept," they will then pursue a land purchase. He said the DNR can only proceed if there's a willing seller. They would consider buying just the land needed for the trail corridor, or a larger parcel, depending on potential negotiations.
NLS Board Chairman Robert Moller expressed concern about the trail crossing the busy school entrance that young drivers use and inquired if flashing warning lights could be installed on the trail.
Skaar said that was a possibility, but others at the meeting said the trail crossing would likely be no more dangerous than other areas where the trail crosses busy roads, including by the golf course near state Highway 23.
Roger Imdieke, a Kandiyohi County Board member and area businessman, said putting the trail on the north side of the school would meet a goal of New London merchants to bring trail users closer to downtown stores.
The NLS School Board members who attended Tuesday's meeting expressed support for the DNR plan, which will be presented to the full board at an upcoming meeting.
Skaar thanked the school representatives for working on a compromise plan.
He said even if all the loose ends of the trail project fall into place, there will not be any physical construction on the new trail extension from New London to Highway 71 for two, or possibly three, years.