April 9, 2007

Luce Line: one trail, many uses

Paving question divides trail users

By Ivan Raconteur
Staff Writer

More than 100 people spent a rainy Saturday morning indoors talking about the things they love to do outdoors, at the invitation of State Rep. Ron Shimanski of Silver Lake.

Residents from all along the Luce Line Trail and beyond flooded the Silver Lake Auditorium March 31 to express their opinions about the future of the trail.

Shimanski arranged the meeting to get input from property owners and trail users about how the trail should be developed, whether it should be paved, and what uses should be permitted.

Those present seemed to universally agree that the trail is an asset for the region, but they differed on how it should be used.

Those attending the meeting talked about a variety of uses for the trail, including walking, jogging, bicycling, horse back riding, snowmobiling, and cross country skiing.

The Luce Line Trail stretches 63 miles from Plymouth to Cosmos.

The trail features a variety of surface materials. From Plymouth to Winsted, the surface is limestone; from Winsted to Hutchinson, it is gravel; from Hutchinson to Cedar Mills, it is crushed granite; and from Cedar Mills to Cosmos, it is grass.

One of the most controversial topics discussed during the meeting involves a proposal to pave the 23-mile section of the trail from Winsted to Cedar Mills.

“The goal of our department is to see the full potential of the trail realized,” Laurie Young of the DNR said.

She added that paving the trail is part of the DNRs 1998 master plan for the trail.

What would it cost?

The cost to pave the trail would be approximately $100,000 per mile, for a total of $2.3-2.4 million. A paved surface would have a 20-year lifespan, according to the DNR.

In contrast, an aggregate trail surface costs $70,000 to $80,000, and has a 10-year lifespan.

The DNR also says it would cost less to maintain a paved trail.

Opponents contend that the DNR does not do an adequate job of maintaining the trail now, and question how future maintenance will be funded.

Some people at the meeting opposed the paving of the trail for purely economic reasons, and said they were against any tax dollars being used for the project.

A variety of opinions

Supporters of paving the trail say it would increase trail usage by making it usable for bicycling and in-line skating.

Ray Munson of Howard Lake said he and his wife ride their bicycles 2,000 miles annually, and said paving the trail would make the Luce Line a destination for bicyclists who would spend money while in the area.

Supporters said that paving the trail would improve public safety by giving people a place to enjoy recreational activities without creating hazards on public roads.

Lee Salmi of Hutchinson said he has been knocked down twice by vehicles while riding his bike in Hutchinson.

Young said increased trail use would provide economic benefits for local businesses.

She pointed to estimates for money spent by users of other state trails.

Opponents, including George Jones of Silver Lake, argued that tourism dollars in the metro area do not compare with out state areas.

Other opponents were opposed to paving because they say it is not favorable for horseback riding or jogging.

One suggestion for compromise is the possibility of a parallel natural treadway that would accommodate equestrian use.

Some people who own property adjacent to the trail, expressed concern about issues related to trail crossings for agriculture and tile maintenance.

What’s next?

Despite the variety of conflicting views, several people at the meeting spoke in favor of the need for people to work together to find ways to improve the trail so more people can enjoy it.

“This is only the beginning,” Shimanski said. “We need to hear from everyone. There may be several more meetings.”

Shimanski encouraged those in attendance to “stay tuned” for updates and future meetings regarding the trail.

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