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Local trail improvements a future possibility
March 19, 2012

By Starrla Cray
Staff Writer

McLEOD, CARVER COUNTIES, MN – Communities along the Luce Line State Trail and Dakota Rail Regional Trail have been investing time and money into making the trails a resource all citizens can enjoy.

One of these proposed improvements is paving of the 25-mile Luce Line stretch from Winsted west to Cedar Mills (west of Hutchinson).

The $2.5 million paving project is currently included in the Minnesota House of Representatives state bonding bill, House File 2389. Its companion bill is Senate File 2276.

The bill would cover the entire cost of paving, and a parallel horse trail.

The proposed bonding bill includes a total of about $26.5 million appropriated for 17 trail projects throughout the state.

In Governor Mark Dayton’s $775 million capital investment bill proposal, he recommends $5 million for parks and trails development.

“The governor makes recommendations to the legislature for their consideration. These recommendations are non-binding.” noted Brian Theis, legislative assistant to State Representative Ron Shimanski (R-Silver Lake).

According to a document on the Minnesota House of Representatives website, the money would be available for park renewal projects, campground development, and the DNR’s top priority state trail projects.

The likelihood of a certain project being funded is still undefined, according to Scott Roemhildt, DNR information officer for the southern region of Minnesota.

“We may not know until the end of session. As bills get changed and revised, a lot can happen,” he said.

The Minnesota Legislature convened for its 2012 session Jan. 24.

According to Hutchinson Mayor Steve Cook, the legislature is planning to be done by Monday, April 30, but by statute, needs to be done by Saturday, May 21.

Before a bill becomes a law, it goes through a formal process. It is discussed in one or more committees, and is then placed on the House and Senate agendas, according to the Minnesota State Legislature website.

“A bill needs 68 votes to pass the House and 34 votes to pass the Senate. If the House and Senate each pass the same version of the bill, it goes to the governor for a signature,” the site indicated.

The governor can sign the bill into law, veto it, line-item veto it, or allow it to become law by not signing it. During session, the House and Senate can override a governor’s veto with a two-thirds vote.

“Each and every bonding bill includes funds for trails – why not here in Winsted?” Winsted City Administrator Brad Martens said. “I’ve seen what trails can do for communities, and there are big benefits.”

According to Shimanski, a certain amount of money will most likely be appropriated to the DNR for trails, and the DNR will have the final determination of which trail projects will be completed throughout the state.

Varying trail usability
The Luce Line State Trail extends 63 miles from Plymouth to Cosmos, and is available for biking, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, snowmobiling, and skiing.

From Plymouth to Winsted, the surface is crushed limestone, with a parallel trail for horseback riding, according to DNR district parks and trails supervisor Martha Reger. According to www.minnesotabeautiful.com, nearly three miles of the trail in Hutchinson is paved.

West of Winsted, the trail is primarily gravel, although it has a mowed-grass surface from Cedar Mills to Cosmos.

A few years ago, the DNR acquired additional land near the Winsted Municipal Airport to connect the trail to McLeod County Road 1, near the Winsted Farmers Co-op, according to Kristy Rice of the DNR.

This small portion of the trail, which features a mowed grass surface, was acquired through a land swap with Millerbernd in Winsted, in which the DNR swapped equal land amounts in order to make the trail connection, Rice said.

Three bridges have been replaced along the western part of the Luce Line, at a combined cost of about $681,000 for the bridges, the work to remove and dispose of the old bridges, and installation of the new bridges, Rice noted.

A cattle pass along the trail was also added recently, at a cost of about $31,000.

The only other addition Rice mentioned was a bridge near Cedar Mills, which was installed in 1997.

Paving the western part of the Luce Line from Winsted to Cedar Mills has been included in the DNR’s master plan recommendations since 1997, according to Rice.

Paving would increase its ability to be utilized for a wider variety of activities, and would enable wheelchair and stroller access.

“It’s really an asset that we’re just trying to improve,” Cook said. “We’re not limiting any of the existing pieces.”

Cook said that a parallel trail for horses would be added, and snowmobiling would still be allowed.

Hunting rules would not be affected by paving, either, according to Rice.

“Hunting is allowed on the Luce Line, but it is subject to local ordinances,” she said.

According to Martens, the trail is “shovel ready,” and land acquisition is not needed.

Before the paving project can begin, however, state funding needs to be approved for it. In past years, spending cuts have prevented the Luce Line from being included in the budget.

If funding is approved, Rice said a realistic completion date would be 2013.

“The trail is pretty much ready to go,” she said. “The design will be pretty simple.”

Impact to the area
An improved trail would have significant recreational and economic benefits for the communities along the Luce Line, according to Cook.

“I think it’s just a great opportunity,” he said. “I know Winsted and Hutchinson are both looking at development plans to help downtown in their communities, and the trail is a big part of that.”

The Dakota Rail Regional Trail, which extends from Hutchinson to Wayzata, is paved through Mayer. St. Bonifacius, Minnetrista, Mound, Spring Park, Minnetonka Beach, Orono, and Wayzata. Paving will be extended west through New Germany to the McLeod County border this year.

Future enhancements to the Dakota Rail Regional Trail and Luce Line State Trail would provide new recreational opportunities for users around the state, according to McLeod County Parks Superintendent Al Koglin.

Although the trails would not connect directly, users could travel along McLeod County Road 1 between Winsted and Lester Prairie until they reach the other trail. In Hutchinson, the trails are only a block or two apart, Koglin added.

“When you look longer term, there are a lot of great possibilities,” Cook said.

Parking near the Luce Line is available at the following locations, according to the DNR website:

• In the towns of Winsted, Watertown, Hutchinson, and Cosmos

• Off of Carver County Road 127, south of Carver County Road 20

• Lyndale, off County Road 92

• Long Lake, off Stubbs Bay Road

• Plymouth, off of 10th Ave. No. and Vicksburg Lane

Many trail users who park their vehicles stop for gas, food, or a beverage in nearby cities, Martens said.

“People like destination routes,” he said. “The demand is there, for sure.”

Trails can have indirect financial impacts in other ways, as well.

“When people are looking for a home, they look at the quality of life in the area,” Martens said, adding that trails are one way to encourage an active, healthy lifestyle.

“Trails also help improve safety,” Cook said.

Economic impact
According to the Luce Line State Trail Pavement Plan, “visiting state parks and trails is one of the top five activities for tourists in Minnesota, contributing more than $200 million in economic activity.”

In 2008, the Minnesota Recreational Trail Users Association (MRTUA) embarked on a survey of its members to create a profile of trail users, their expenditures, and their economic impact on local economies.

The association contracted with the University of Minnesota Tourism Center (UMN) to conduct the study.

Other agencies also helped with the study, which involved 10 trails throughout the state.

Walkers/hikers had the highest total participation, accounting for two of every three days of trail use.

Local trail users (within 30 minutes from home) accounted for nearly 75 percent of the walker/hiker total days.

Bicycle riding and running were the next most common activities.

A smaller percentage of users took part in in-line skating, ATV use, and snowmobiling.

ATVs are not allowed on the Luce Line, and are only allowed on select Minnesota trails.

The number of cross-country skiers, horseback riders, off-highway motorcycle users, and off-road vehicle users was only a small fraction of the total use.

Total spending at Minnesota trails among walkers/hikers was reported at $1.4 million, followed by $427,478 for bicycle riders.

Paved or limestone
Although many people enjoy using nearby trail systems, not everyone agrees that paving is the best option for the Luce Line.

“There is still local opposition to paving the trail,” Shimanski said. “The biggest argument is that they don’t want to spend money on the trails. I’ve heard that repeatedly.”

As a property owner whose apple orchard business is along the Luce Line, Shimanski said he has been keeping the proposed improvement project “at arm’s length.”

“I would have the opportunity for material gain,” he said.

Cost and maintenance
According to Rice, the cost to pave the unfinished part of the Luce Line would be about $100,000 per mile.

In contrast, the cost to create a crushed limestone surface would be about 60 percent of the cost of paving, or about $60,000 per mile.

Rice did not have an estimate of the cost of a gravel surface.

Because the Luce Line is a state trail, the DNR owns the land and is responsible for maintenance.

Rice said that a bituminous (paved) surface would have about a 25-year lifespan. In the first 10 years, she said the maintenance is minimal, and mainly includes mowing the shoulders.

After 10 years, she said that a paved trail would most likely need crack filling and crack sealing.

A crushed limestone surface, in contrast, would have more ongoing maintenance, Rice said. Although she was not able to provide a direct cost comparison, Rice said that maintenance of crushed limestone would include herbicide, mowing, the cost of surface materials, and the labor costs of filling holes and ruts.

“It depends on the weather and the amount of usage,” she said.

Kent Skaar of the DNR parks and trails division agreed that limestone is more expensive to maintain on an annual basis.

“Is there a cost benefit either way? If I had to guess, I would say it’s probably more of a wash over 20 years,” Skaar said. “It depends more on what the recreational user wants.”

Trail usage survey
According to Rice, no user counts have been recorded on the part of the Luce Line that is proposed for paving since she began working at the DNR 11 years ago.

She does not know of any estimates for usage if it were paved, but said “certainly, we anticipate that it would increase.”

According to Martha Reger of the DNR, user data is typically gathered through user surveys conducted in person and/or through the mail.

Trail activities
Shimanski said that creating a crushed limestone surface for the trail west of Winsted might be an option to consider. That way, users would have the option of a paved or limestone surface, if they also use the Dakota Rail Regional Trail.

“I certainly agree that we should do something with the trails,” he said.

John Sweet, who has biked on both the Luce Line and the Dakota trails, commented that “you get a little different experience on the two different trails.”

Sweet stated that he mostly bikes on the road, but also really enjoys the trails. People who use the trails on foot, however, have told him that they prefer not to run on paved surfaces.

“The crushed limestone is better for running, not so hard on the legs. Runners will tell you they prefer limestone,” Sweet noted.

Many users would prefer pavement, however.

“If the Luce Line were paved, the incentive to use it would go way up,” Winsted resident Evelyn Fowler noted. “I will walk on gravel, but biking on a paved trail is my preference.”

According to a chart from Bergstrom Skegs (a ski equipment company in Illinois), trail surfaces have varying recreational uses.

Jogging is considered suitable on both asphalt and limestone, but is said to be easier on feet on limestone.

The chart indicates that biking is fastest on asphalt, and that asphalt is best for in-line skating, wheelchairs, and strollers.

Cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are suitable on both types of snow-covered trails, but asphalt hastens snow melt if exposed, according to the chart.

An unimproved surface is considered unsuitable for touring bikes, but best for horseback riding and all-terrain vehicles.

More information
Look for part two of this story in the next issue of the Herald Journal.

To comment on this story, go to Herald Journal’s blog site, www.hjblogs.com.

Check out the following links for more information:

Luce Line facts from the DNR

Luce Line State Trail Pavement Plan

Luce Line study

Luce Line State Trail information

How a bill becomes a law in MN

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