By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN The Dakota Rail Regional Trail in Carver County will soon be completed to the McLeod County line, but that is as far as it will go in the foreseeable future.
Lester Prairie resident Chris Schultz tried last week to broker a deal to get the trail extended 950 feet from Carver County to the first road approach in McLeod County along McLeod County Road 23, just east of Lester Prairie.
Schultz appeared before the city council Tuesday, and asked the council to approve payment of half of the estimated $26,826 cost of paving that part of the trail to give city residents easy access to the trail, which runs along a 44-mile corridor that crosses parts of Hennepin, Carver, and McLeod counties.
Development of the trail is complete in Hennepin County, and the final phase of the Carver County portion of the trail is underway and scheduled for completion this year.
Schultz told the council he had received commitments that the other half of the cost would be paid by some combination of McLeod County, the McLeod County Rail Authority, or the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
McLeod County has applied for a Parks and Trails Legacy Grant to develop the trail from the county line west to McLeod County Road 1 in Lester Prairie.
Schultz said it is possible that the city could get the money for developing the first 950 feet back if the grant is approved, since that section of the trail is included in the grant application.
“We will never get it done for less money,” Schultz said, noting the lowest estimate received for the project in the past was $36,000. Through an arrangement with the contractor that is currently completing the Carver County portion of the trail, the work could be done at the same unit price as the larger project, and be completed for as little as $26,000, he noted.
Schultz said the proposal is a common sense, cost-effective way to give city residents easy access to the trail, and bring many trail users from outside Lester Prairie to the city.
Trail use on the portions that have been developed so far has exceeded all expectations, he added.
Schultz said he had received the cost estimate just prior to the meeting, and McLeod County would be sending a letter to the city confirming what the county is willing to do to get the project completed.
Schultz said the work could begin in the next two-to-four weeks, in conjunction with the work in Carver County.
The council discussed possible funding sources, including the park budget, the economic development budget, and the cable franchise fund, which currently has an available balance of about $113,000.
Council Member Ron Foust questioned why the city should pay to develop this portion of the trail, which is outside city limits.
Mayor Andy Heimerl said Lester Prairie would benefit the most from the improvement.
Foust said the county should pay a greater share of the cost.
Schultz said the county has already incurred costs for preparing grant applications last year and this year.
Heimerl said paving the 950 feet from the county line to the road access would show commitment on the part of the city and McLeod County, and might improve chances of the Legacy grant being approved.
He added that doing the project now would save money by combining it with the Carver County project.
“This is a great opportunity for the city to get involved in something much bigger,” Council Member Bob Messer said.
“I think the county should pay more than 50 percent,” Foust said. “Sure, we’re going to benefit, but we have to prioritize our projects.”
Messer noted that paving this part the trail would put Lester Prairie on all the trail maps.
Schultz said failing to complete the project would create a negative impression of Lester Prairie, because the trail would end just outside the city.
Foust questioned why the council was being asked to support the project “at the 11th hour.”
Schultz said he has been working on the trail for two years, and has attended at least five council meetings to present information.
“I’m for the idea,” Heimerl said. “It’s a great idea.”
Foust said the county should pay at least 90 percent of the cost.
Heimerl made a motion for the city to contribute one-third of the cost, or about $9,000, toward the project, using funds from the cable franchise account.
“That’s got to be worth at least $9,000,” Messer commented.
The motion failed on a 3-2 vote, with Foust and council members Art Mallak and Eric Angvall opposed, and Heimerl and Messer in favor.
The next possibility for developing the trail lies with the Legacy grant application to pave the trail from the McLeod/Carver county line to McLeod County Road 1 in Lester Prairie.
Schultz said an announcement regarding which Legacy grant applications will be funded is expected by the end of the year.
It is unclear at this time what will happen with the trail corridor in McLeod County if the grant application is not approved.