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Land dispute leads to partial closure of local trail

Barricades block a 1¼-mile segment of the Glacial Lakes Trail north of New London. The Department of Natural Resources put up the barricades until a land dispute is settled between the state and an individual who has title to a 300-foot section of land where the trail is located. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

NEW LONDON -- Snowmobilers eager to use the Glacial Lakes Trail will have to find a new route to get between New London and Hawick.

Until it's resolved, the Department of Natural Resources has closed a 1¼-mile stretch of the trail, starting at Kandiyohi County Road 31 on the edge of New London.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources put up orange snow fences shortly before Thanksgiving and closed an approximate 300-foot section of the trail north of New London. It is urging trail users not to attempt to go around the barricades.

On Wednesday, DNR officials put up additional barricades, including at County Road 31 and on private property farther north, in order to give snowmobilers fair warning to turn back or find another route.

The closed link is part of a property dispute with a private landowner that is in negotiation, according to Gregg Soupir, trails supervisor with the DNR in Spicer.

Soupir said he's already received lots of calls from trail users who have discovered the blocked segment.

The closing is a major disappointment to snowmobilers in the county, according to Paul Sebring, administrator for the Little Crow Trail Association. The closed link prevents snowmobilers from riding the length of a trail that otherwise runs 25 miles from Willmar to Paynesville.

Sebring said that as many as 200 to 500 sleds a day travel that segment of the trail when snow conditions allow it.

The trails association is responsible for grooming the trail. It will have to send its groomer on a lengthy route around the closed area to groom the segment from Hawick south, Sebring noted.

The closed link will remain a big issue next spring, when bicyclists, hikers and in-line skaters encounter the barricades. Soupir said the trail sees lots of use through the warm weather season, and the closed section is part of a scenic and popular section away from busy Minnesota Highway 23.

The state purchased 18 miles of abandoned rail property from the Burlington Northern Railroad in 1990 for the trail, which was paved in 1995.

Bill Plamann of Dassel purchased a 40-acre parcel of land from the railroad in 1991 that runs alongside the trail.

It has since been determined that the original metes and bound description of the property acquired from the railroad was not accurate, according to Soupir. The short trail segment is built on the edge of a quarter section of land owned by Plamann. He uses the property for hunting, Soupir said.

When the DNR originally purchased the land, it relied on the metes and bounds descriptions provided by the railroad because of the high costs for surveying the land, according to Jeff Brown of the DNR trails division in New London. Technological advances since then have made it less costly to accurately determine property lines, noted Soupir.

The DNR has made offers to purchase the property from Plamann beginning in 2002, but he has not accepted any of them, according to Soupir.

Sebring said the Little Crow Trails Association had contacted the landowner in hopes of acquiring an easement so that the snowmobiles could use the trail this winter. Plamann was not receptive, and has not returned phone calls since the initial contact, said Sebring.

The DNR has also looked at options to go around the disputed area, but they have not been productive. A neighboring landowner was not receptive to the idea of selling property. The DNR has also looked at options to reroute snowmobilers along Kandiyohi County Road 31 just south of the disputed property, but the steep grade and wetlands on both side of the road work against it, said Soupir. The other route would take snowmobilers to the Highway 23 four-lane, and that raises safety concerns from the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

State Rep. Al Juhnke said he was surprised to hear about the dispute. He said there "never was an inkling'' that a portion of the trail may not be owned by the state. "Why a piece of that would not be included would be a little baffling to me,'' said Juhnke, DFL-Willmar. "I'm surprised to hear it's come up now.''

He will likely be hearing more about the dispute. Sebring and Mike Ulferts with the Little Crow Trails Association said their membership -- which includes three snowmobile clubs in Kandiyohi County -- will be urging legislators to take action to resolve the dispute. Both noted that the trail is an important recreational and economic asset to the county.

Phone calls to Plamann were not returned.