Trail plans for the Minnesota River are taking shape

MONTEVIDEO -- A dream dating back to the 1930s to develop a recreational trail following the Minnesota River from Big Stone Lake to Le Sueur is starting to look like it could someday become reality.

MONTEVIDEO -- A dream dating back to the 1930s to develop a recreational trail following the Minnesota River from Big Stone Lake to Le Sueur is starting to look like it could someday become reality.

Dozens of people have now looked at concept plans for a portion of that trail -- and the route it could take from Ortonville to Franklin -- at open house meetings held Wednesday in Appleton and on Thursday in Montevideo. The plans are being developed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The state Legislature previously authorized the development of the Minnesota River Valley state trail.

"Supportive," said Laurie Young, trail planning supervisor with the DNR, when asked how people attending the open houses have responded to the plans. "A great majority of the people are excited and supportive of the project," she said.

"Just get it done while I'm young enough to ride on it," said David Stendahl, Montevideo, who was among those who viewed the plans on Thursday.

While enthusiasts like Stendahl are eager to see the trail developed, the challenges facing the trail are also becoming evident at the open houses.


At this point the plans are designed mainly to give people an idea of the corridor being proposed. Young said no property or easements have been acquired. Nor has state funding been appropriated for land acquisition or development.

The first real test of whether the dream of a Minnesota River Valley trail can become reality will come soon, as steps are taken to develop an eight-mile trail segment from Granite Falls to Wegdahl. It will connect with an existing trail reaching Montevideo.

A local citizens group known as the Minnesota Trails Initiative is working with the Minnesota Parks and Trails Council to make the trail segment possible. They have funded work by engineers and architects to develop preliminary plans for this route.

The Minnesota Parks and Trails Council will be seeking $3.8 million in state bond funds this legislative session for land acquisition and the development, according to Patrick Moore, of Montevideo, and a member of the local Trails Council.

The City of Granite Falls is using eminent domain to acquire the property for the trail. Plans call for the trail to follow the Twin Cities and Western Railroad line on the Chippewa County side of the Minnesota River. The matter goes before the court next month.

The railroad has opposed the trail alignment. It has expressed concerns about liability and its fears that a trail would make the line vulnerable to terrorism.

Moore said that advocates of the trail believe that it represents an important development for the area's future economic growth. It's well documented that trails bring significant economic benefits to communities, he said.

Supporters of this trail include a host of business owners in both the Granite Falls and Montevideo communities, he added.


Family-owned retail businesses in the smaller communities do not believe their future lies in competing with big box retail stores like Wal-Mart, he explained.

They believe their best opportunity is to follow the successful example of communities like Lanesboro, where the Root River Trail has brought visitors and new business to the community.

A Minnesota River trail could also improve the quality of life for local residents and help make the area attractive to new families, said Moore.

Moore said the local trail group is well aware of the challenges ahead. But he said they remain optimistic.

The support that Young has been hearing at the open houses is repeated many times over in the Minnesota River communities, where Moore said a majority of people favor the trail development.

At least two different property owners along the route between Granite Falls and Wegdahl have made offers to donate some of their land to help make the trail a reality.

The DNR will hold three more open house meetings in the area to give people an opportunity to view the plans and offer their suggestions. They are scheduled:

Monday from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at the Redwood Falls Area Community Center, 901 Cook Street; Tuesday from 4:30 to 7 p.m., Granite Falls City Hall; and March 2 from 4:30 to 7 p.m., Ortonville Senior Center, 200 Monroe Avenue.

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