By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Lester Prairie City Council will conduct a special meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at city hall to discuss the possible extension of the Dakota Rail Regional Trail.
The extension would extend the developed portion of the trail from the Carver County line 950 feet west to the first road approach along McLeod County Road 23.
Mayor Andy Heimerl said he has been hearing comments from a lot of people, including many who have asked what they can do to help get the extension completed.
During the Sept. 5 city council meeting, a proposal to pay one-third of the estimated cost, or $9,000, to develop the portion of trail failed on a 3-2 vote.
Since that meeting, Heimerl said he has been contacted by many residents, and people have stopped him at the bank, post office, and at football games asking him why the council made the decision not to extend the trail.
Heimerl said he called the special meeting so all residents have the opportunity to have their voices heard, and he encourages all residents to attend.
Another purpose of the meeting is to ensure people have accurate information about what is being proposed.
Heimerl said some think the proposed extension would develop the trail into the middle of the city, but the proposed 950 feet would only bring the rail to the road approach, which would give trail users access to the trail from a paved surface.
McLeod County has applied for a Parks and Trails legacy grant to develop the trail from the Carver County line west though Lester Prairie to McLeod County Road 1.
He said his goal is to have representatives from all stakeholder groups present at the meeting, including the city, the county, the McLeod County Rail Authority, and Bergen Township.
However, the county’s grant application was not successful last year, and it will not be known if the county will receive a grant this year until later this fall.
Prior to the Sept. 5 council meeting, Lester Prairie resident Chris Schultz tried to broker a deal to get the trail extension approved because Carver County is in the process of finishing development of its portion of the trail, and according to Schultz, there will never be a time when the extension can be completed for less money, since crews and equipment are already in place to finish the trail up to the county line.
Heimerl said he called the special meeting to give voters accurate information, and to get resident input to help the council make a better-educated decision about how to proceed.
Time is running out
If an agreement is to be reached to develop the trail extension into McLeod County while the contractor is working on the Carver County portion, it will need to happen soon.
Carver County Parks Director Marty Walsh said work along the trail has been progressing quite well.
As of last week, some paving had already taken place between the two trestle structures on the west end of the project (near the McLeod County line).
Paving was expected to continue from the east trestle structure eastward toward New Germany.
Decking on one trestle structure was progressing, and steel for the another was expected to arrive last week, with construction beginning when the material was available.
Work was also progressing on the bridge over the Crow River between New Germany and Mayer.
The last section of the trail to be paved will be at the western end of the project area, ending at the McLeod County line, Walsh said.