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Joint meeting leads to forming a trail board
March 21, 2011
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Maintenance will likely be held off until next year

By Jennifer Kotila
Staff Writer

DASSEL, COKATO, MN – A joint meeting between the cities of Dassel and Cokato, the townships of Cokato and Dassel, Meeker County, and the Dassel-Cokato School District took place March 11 regarding the preservation and maintenance of the bike trail between Dassel and Cokato.

Representative Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City), who is the chair of the legacy funding committee in the Minnesota House of Representatives, was also in attendance at the meeting to explain how legacy funding works.

The legacy fund was established to provide grants to local units of government to support parks and trails of regional or statewide significance. It was created by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment passed by the voters in 2008.

The purpose of the joint meeting was to decide whether or not the City of Cokato should proceed with an application for a grant from the legacy fund this year.

Urdahl started the meeting by explaining that a bill to provide the funding has not yet been passed this year, but there is $40 million in the fund, and there will be another $40 million in the fund next year.

Urdahl explained that the bill he is proposing would allow 40 percent of the fund to go to the Metropolitan Council, 40 percent to the DNR, and 20 percent to a grant fund which outstate Minnesota can tap into, Urdahl said.

When asked why the Met Council gets 40 percent of the funding, Urdahl explained that greater Minnesota wanted a 30 percent split in the legacy fund, but that would be difficult to pass.

Suburban Republicans argue that they have more people, and greater Minnesota has more state parks and receives all the funding for them, Urdahl said.

“I don’t know I can get any more for out here in this house,” he said.

Funding for the trail

For two years in a row, grant applications for funding to preserve the bike trail have been turned down by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which oversees the grant appropriation process.

In speaking with the DNR over the matter, Urdahl said he was informed that the project did not have regional significance, which is why it has been turned down for funding from year to year.

During his conversation with the DNR, Urdahl explained the significance of the trail that connects two communities, with a school in between.

“There is a decent chance the DNR can be convinced this time that you have a regional significance,” Urdahl said.

Although the grant application was due two weeks after the meeting, Cokato Mayor Gordy Erickson noted the city would need a commitment from each of the entities involved before moving forward with the application.

The trail is in such bad shape at this time, that the county engineer has recommended grinding it up and redoing the whole trail, Erickson said. The total cost of the project is estimated to be about $195,000.

The parks and trails legacy fund requires entities to share about 25 percent of the cost of the projects applied for, said Cokato City Administrator Don Levens.

The five entities with interest in the DC bike trail – the cities of Dassel and Cokato, Dassel and Cokato townships, and the DC School Board – would each have to agree to about a $10,000 investment in the project.

Dassel Mayor Mike Scanlon agreed, noting this was first talked about two years ago, and each entity was to be setting aside money to move forward with the project.

It seemed that most of the entities were on board with the project, and some had been setting aside money for it.

Dassel had already spent money on improving its section of the trail, noted Meeker County Commissioner Tim Benoit.

“The school district still has the money set aside for its share of the bike trail,” said DC School Board Chair Kevin Bjork.

Cokato Township probably does not have the funding set aside for its section of the trail, said township board member Dean Mahlstedt, but it does have about 20 percent in private donations towards it.

Sending letters of commitment from each of the entities involved and others willing to fund the project would also gain more points from the DNR during the application process, said Meeker County Engineer Ron Mortenson.

Benoit noted other townships, such as Collinwood, that are not even on the trail, and are willing to contribute financially to the project.

It is too close to the grant application deadline to get letters of commitment from each of the entities involved, so it does not pay to apply for the grant this year, Levens said.

Instead, the entities should work at organizing this year, in order to have a stronger grant application next year, he said.

Urdahl promised to see if the deadline for the grant application could be extended at all to give the different entities involved a chance to meet and send a letter of commitment.

Erickson noted it would have to be extended at least a month to allow each of the entities to meet.

“In the meantime, continue on the path you are on now so you will have more points for next year,” Urdahl said.

Organizing a trail board

Since the trail was built in 1996, not a lot has been done to maintain it, Mortenson said, noting the DNR looks at that as being unorganized.

“You’re not organized, you have to organize,” Mortenson said. “If you have a separate trail board, setting aside money each year and doing small things to maintain the trail, you will get more points from the DNR for funding.”

“I know from the beginning there has been talk about maintenance of the trail, but there has been no organization for maintaining it, so this would be good,” said Dassel City Administrator Myles McGrath.

The City of Cokato has taken the lead for forming a trail board. A letter, which will be sent to each of the entities with interest in the bike trail, was approved at last Monday’s Cokato City Council meeting.

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