By Ivan Raconteur
There has been a lot of activity on the Dakota Rail Regional Trail in Hennepin and Carver counties during the past few years, but very little in McLeod County.
That all changed recently.
The trail involves a 44-mile corridor that crosses parts of Hennepin, Carver, and McLeod counties.
The eastern portions of the trail have been developed in recent years, and paved to accomodate the planned uses of walking, hiking, biking, jogging, and inline skating.
Lester Prairie City Council adopted a resolution of support for development of the Dakota Rail Regional Trail from the Carver County line through Lester Prairie to McLeod County Road 1, and application for grant money to support the project.
The action was taken during a special meeting of the city council Tuesday afternoon.
The grant would be funded by sales tax dollars under the state’s Legacy Amendment.
Mayor Andy Heimerl said he had attended a March 17 meeting about the trail, which also included McLeod County Commissioner Sheldon Nies, who is also a member of the McLeod County Rail Authority; Ed Mlynar of the Lester Prairie Sportsmen’s Club; Al Koglin, superintendent of McLeod County Parks; Chris Schultz of the Lester Prairie Park Board, and Fred Holasek of Holasek & Son Greenhouses in Lester Prairie.
Heimerl said the preliminary cost estimate for extending the trail from the Carver County line through Lester Prairie to McLeod County Road 1 is $225,000.
Portions of the trail in Hennepin and Carver counties are already being developed.
The portion of the corridor in McLeod County is owned by the McLeod County Rail Authority, and currently leased to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Heimerl said if the grant is approved, it is hoped that the McLeod County Parks Department will own and maintain the trail in the future.
Heimerl said if the county is successful in obtaining a grant for the trail project, the city may need to contribute 20 percent in matching funds.
Nies is investigating whether the city could use in-kind contributions, or work that has already been done, to fulfill the matching requirement.
The trail could also provide a link to Lester Prairie’s Sunrise Nature Park, which would add value to the grant dollars that have already been invested in that project, Schultz said.
Heimerl said the city of Lester Prairie would have some input on how the trail is used in the city.
Snowmobile use along the trail was one use that was discussed.
“It would be nicer than having them on our city streets,” Police Chief Bob Carlson commented.
In adopting the resolution of support, council members noted that the trail would draw people from outside of the city, which would benefit local businesses.
The grant application includes a paved parking lot in the southwest corner of Lester Prairie’s Central Square Park, which could be used by people to access the trail.
Heimerl said currently, some people trailer their bikes from Hutchinson to St. Bonifacius to access the Dakota Rail Trail at that point.
If completed, the trail could provide a link to the Luce Line Trail in Winsted, which would, when that loop is completed, make it one of the longest continuous trail systems in the Midwest, and one of the nearest to a major metropolitan area.
Schultz said in addition to the resolution of support from the city of Lester Prairie, the rail authority has received letters of support from the Lester Prairie Lions, the Lester Prairie Sportsmen’s Club, the Lester Prairie Business Association, the Lester Prairie Youth Baseball and Softball Association, the Lester Prairie Booster Club, and the Lester Prairie American Legion Post 463.