By Jennifer Kotila
DASSEL, COKATO, MN Although the Dassel-Cokato Regional Trail board was not accepted for a parks and trails legacy grant in the 2011 funding cycle, it is not giving up hope in finding a resource to fund improvements to the DC trail.
Funding for the grant program is from the parks and trails fund created by the Minnesota Legislature from the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment passed by the voters in 2008.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is responsible for deciding which programs are funded through the parks and trails grant program.
“We are trying to continue to be successful, and will be working with the DNR to improve our chances,” said Cokato City Administrator Don Levens at a DC Regional Trail Board meeting Thursday.
He noted that the DNR has been responsive and receptive to requests to meet and discuss ways to improve the grant application, thereby improving the likelihood of being accepted for a grant in the next funding cycle.
Applications for the next round of parks and trails grants are due by Sept. 28, 2012.
It is hoped that Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City), who is chair of the legacy funding committee in the Minnesota House of Representatives, will continue to provide his assistance in lobbying for DC trail funding.
“I’m sure Dean Urdahl’s going to help a lot again, like he did last time,” said Cokato Mayor Gordy Erickson.
Cokato Council Member Butch Amundsen also noted he had received a phone call from Urdahl telling him not to give up hope for a parks and trails legacy fund grant.
The trail has been a great benefit for the community, noted Dave Danielson, who was instrumental in getting the trail built in 1999.
“It is unfortunate that one entity (Cokato Township) does not recognize that benefit,” Danielson said.
The entities in which the trail is located are the cities of Dassel and Cokato, the townships of Dassel and Cokato, and the Dassel-Cokato School District.
Each entity, except for Cokato Township, has formed the DC Regioanl Trail Board, and committed matching funds for trail improvements.
Those entities have also made a commitment to maintain the trail in the future.
Several entities with no direct connection to the DC trail which have also committed in-kind donations for improvements when they take place.
Other options for funding were also presented to the board.
Information from the DNR parks and trails grant application can be easily inserted into the applications for the other options, Levens said.
Reasons for not receiving DNR grant
Noting he had spoke in detail with DNR parks and trails coordinator Andrew Korsberg, Cokato’s City Engineer Eric Lembke, of Stantec noted that the cut-off score for grant applications this year was 76, and the DC trail application received a score of 62.
The DC trail is not a very high priority for a grant from the DNR, because it is a rehabilitation of an already existing trail, and the DNR likes to find new projects to fund, Lembke said.
Also, based on new trail guidelines, most trails funded by the DNR are 10 feet wide, and the DC trail is only 8 feet wide.
When the trail was originally built, 8 feet was the standard, however the standards have changed. The new standards are based on the width needed for two people to ride past each other on a bicycle, Lembke said.
“It would greatly improve our position if we move to a 10-foot trail, but I don’t know if we want to incur those costs,” Lembke added.
However, the DNR grants only require a 10 percent match, and the board was proposing a 20 percent match to improve its chances of being accepted.
Lembke suggested that if the board cut its match to 10 percent, and made the trail 10 feet wide, the cost for each entity on the trail board would actually be less than with a 20 percent match on an 8-foot trail.
The additional cost to create a 10-foot trail is about $150,000, which would be added to the $225,000 to rehabilitate the 8-foot wide trail, for a total of $375,000.
Although the DNR would like to see a 10-foot trail, Korsberg assured Lembke that it would understand if it cannot be widened and look at the other merits of the project.
“It would improve the score if you go with a 10-foot trail but it’s not a deal killer if you don’t,” Lembke said.
Although the trail is within the right-of-way for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, it wouldn’t be a problem with MnDOT if the trail were widened, as that brings it up to standard, Lembke added.
Other funding available for trail improvements
At this time, there are only two other choices for grants for funding the improvements, the regional trail grant program and the local trail connections grant program.
The board will have to decide which grant to apply for, since they come out of the same pot of money through the DNR, Lembke said.
The local trail connections grant program doesn’t really fit the scope of the project, Lembke said. The maximum grant amount for that program is $150,000 with a 25 percent match.
However, the regional trail maximum grant amount is $250,000 with a 25 percent match, which would more closely match the grant the board was trying to obtain from through the parks and trails program.
“There isn’t a lot of competition in the regional trail grant program,” noted Lembke.
Before a decision is made to apply for the grant, Amundsen noted that the additional cost would have to be approved by the four entities which are part of the trail board.
To put it in perspective, Lembke calculated the additional costs for each entity. For the parks and trails grant, the local match at 20 percent would have been $44,000, or $11,000 per entity.
The local match for the regional trail grant at 25 percent, would be $55,000, or $13,750 per entity.
Is the trail safe?
One of the questions addressed at the meeting was the safety of the trail, and how long it will continue to be safe if grants to improve it were not obtained.
Considering the trail is 12 years old, it has held up fairly well, Danielson said.
Up to now, Lembke said he has not seen any glaring safety risks for the trail. Although some of the cracks in the trail are becoming fairly wide, maybe posing a safety hazard to rollerbladers if not cautious.
Amundsen asked what could be done if each entity provided some money to do minor repairs until funding were available, if turned down again.
There are surface treatments which can be done, but they are costly compared to the benefit received, Lembke said.
However, if that were the only option, the improvements would be about a five-year fix, as opposed to a 15-year fix.
Unfortunately, any surface repairs would basically be like throwing money away, as the trail will be ground up when funding is available to make the major repairs, Lembke noted.
However, something does need to be done in the near future because the bituminous is beginning to pop and the aggregate underneath is starting to come through in some areas, Lembke added.