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Trail development at Sibley State Park takes big step forward

Work is substantially complete on an approximate, three-mile paved extension of the Glacial Lake State Trail from Highway 71 into Sibley State Park. The next step will be to design, fund and construct an approximate 3.5 miles-trail connecting New London and Sibley State Park.

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Work is substantially complete on a paved, three-mile trail winding through prairie and woodlands in Sibley State Park and connecting to U.S. Highway 71. The goal now is to develop another approximate 3.5 mile-trail from this trail and its tunnel under Highway 71 to New London. Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

NEW LONDON — Like fresh-baked cookies and milk, some connections are just meant to be made.

Now, try connecting fresh baked goods at the New London Bakery and Sibley State Park .

That day is coming: A milestone was reached at the start of this month toward eventually making the connection between the popular state park and the community of New London. Work to develop an approximate, three-mile paved trail connecting the park to U.S. Highway 71 is substantially complete.

The contractor still has some work to finish along the trail, and a soft opening date for it is yet to be determined, according to Collin Wright, with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource’s Parks and Trails office in Spicer. Yet, the new trail has already been test driven by a few eager bicyclists and hikers.

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The new trail in Sibley State Park that connects to U.S. Highway 71 is compliant with the the Americans with Disabilities Act and has no grade greater than five degrees. Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

The new trail gently winds through prairie, and wooded, rolling hills through the park from its start at Highway 71. It's compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, which means no grade is greater than 5 degrees.

“A pretty interesting trail,” said Dave Lais, former park manager and member of the Sibley State Park Improvement Association.

The association played a pivotal role in helping gain state bond funding for this extension of the Glacial Lakes Trail , and is ready to go to work again on completing its next leg: The approximate 3.5 mile-leg from Highway 71 to New London.

“It will be a real attribute for the town,” said New London Mayor John Bergman.

He believes the long-awaited connection to Sibley State Park will bring park visitors to the town and to businesses like the bakery and cafes, while enhancing the quality of life for local residents.

“Super excited,” said State Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, of being one step closer to connecting the park and New London.

State bond funds of roughly $1.6 million approved in 2014 and $2.6 million approved in 2017 have made possible the progress to date. The funds allowed for the acquisition of property needed to expand the park for the trail, and importantly, for the land needed for the eventual connection to New London.

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Baker said the work has taken years, and credited former legislators Mary Sawatzky and Lyle Koenen along with current state Sen. Andrew Lang, R-Olivia, for helping get to this point. He pointed out that obtaining bond funds for trail development is challenging. The requests are in competition with infrastructure needs such as water and sewer.

Wright said the DNR will be contracting with an engineering firm to design the trail within the corridor of the property that has been acquired for it between Highway 71 and New London. The trail will need to span some wetlands and the Middle Fork Crow River. Archaeological work will also be needed before any construction could occur, he added.

The engineering work will also help the DNR determine the amount of funds needed for construction ahead.

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Bicycling has long been popular at Sibley State Park, even though it has only offered two miles of paved bicycle trail. The substantial completion of a three-mile trail winding through the park and connecting to Highway 71 expands bicycling opportunities and brings us closer to connecting the park and New London. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune file photo
Erica Dischino

That information will be needed by the Sibley State Improvement Association as it goes to bat for more funding. Lais is optimistic. He pointed out that many of the campers visiting Sibley State Park already arrive with bicycles attached to their vehicles, and this is while the park has had only two miles of paved bicycle trail. The completion of the extension to Highway 71 and the eventual connection to New London are sure to make the park an even more attractive destination.

“It’s a no-brainer to finish it,” Lais told the West Central Tribune. “It’s not a trail leading to nowhere.”

Rep. Baker, who manages the new GrandStay Hotel on the grounds of the Little Crow Country Club, said connecting Sibley State Park and New London will represent an economic asset for the area. He’s already looking forward to the day when the hotel can begin marketing the connection.

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