By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN There are a lot of things that are not clear concerning the Dakota Rail Regional Trail, but one thing that is clear is that the portion of the trail in McLeod County is not open for public use.
The road approach nearest the Carver County line is private property, and “no trespassing” signs have been posted.
The trail is not accessible from the west, because it is undeveloped and there is an unsafe bridge just east of Lester Prairie.
The nearest access to the paved portion of the trail is off of Yale Avenue in Carver County, but there are no parking facilities at that trail intersection.
The nearest official trail access is the trailhead in downtown New Germany, south of Broadway Street and east of Carver County Road 33.
There was a lot of excitement about the Dakota Rail Regional Trail last fall.
Dozens of people attended a special meeting at Lester Prairie City Hall Oct. 11 regarding the possibility of extending the trail into McLeod County.
At that time, paving of the final stage of the trail in Carver County was nearing completion.
Many residents supported extending the trail 950 feet to the first road approach in McLeod County, along McLeod County Road 23, to provide access from the west.
The McLeod County Rail Authority, the city of Lester Prairie, and private citizens contributed money to complete the trail extension.
The extension was improved, but not paved.
It was learned after the meeting that the road approach is private property, and the existing easement does not include trail access.
Since that time, Carver County has completed paving the portion of the trail in Carver County. A grand opening took place this spring.
It has also been announced that a legacy grant application from McLeod County that would have provided for paving the trail from the county line to McLeod County Road 1 in Lester Prairie was unsuccessful.
It is unclear what is ahead for the trail.
The Dakota Rail corridor in McLeod County is owned by the McLeod County Rail Authority and leased to the Minnesota Department of Resources.
McLeod County has also been involved with the trail.
McLeod County Parks Administrator Al Koglin declined to comment on the status of the trail, and directed questions to McLeod County Commissioner Sheldon Nies, who is also chair of the McLeod County Rail Authority.
E-mail and phone messages to Nies had not been returned at the time this story went to press.
Lester Prairie Park Board Member Chris Shultz said residents have expressed interest in forming a trail committee to explore ways to provide access to the trail from the west, and this topic is on the agenda for the Sunday, July 7 park board meeting, which will take place at 7 p.m. at Lester Prairie City Hall.