Many months have passed since the Carver County portion of the Dakota Rail Regional Trail was completed, yet trail users from McLeod County or points west still need to travel to New Germany to access the trail.
There has been work behind the scenes to apply for grants to develop the first phase of the trail in McLeod County, including an application this year. The previous applications were not funded, and the results of the current application are not yet known.
In the absence of funding to complete the trail from the Carver County border through Lester Prairie to McLeod County Road 1, there have been efforts to at least secure access to the trail from the east side of Lester Prairie.
If we cut through the politics, confusion over jurisdiction between multiple entities including McLeod County, the McLeod County Rail Authority, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and the City of Lester Prairie, it appears that the biggest obstacle to providing access is one small bridge.
The nearest trail access from a public street would be the trail intersection at Lily Street in the East Park Estates development.
Between that point and the developed portion of the trail at the Carver County border is a small bridge that is currently unsafe.
One option would be to replace the bridge with a box culvert.
Another option that has been mentioned would be to repair the bridge to make it usable.
If either of these things is done, it seems that it would be a relatively simple matter to improve the section of the trail between Lily Avenue and Carver County at least to the point where it could be used.
This would accomplish two things.
First, it would improve safety. People from Lester Prairie would be able to access the trail without having to ride on McLeod County Road 23 until they get into Carver County.
Second, it would bring people from the east into Lester Prairie, instead of them stopping at the county line and turning around.
During its meeting Tuesday, the Lester Prairie City Council approved the formation of a trail task force to consist of five people who are interested in seeing the trail developed. These people need not be residents of the city.
Anyone interested in serving on the task force may contact the Lester Prairie city office at (320) 395-2646.
The task force will be charged with researching options and costs for moving the trail forward, and reporting its findings to the city council.
It will likely also be coordinating fund-raising efforts to accomplish goals and to demonstrate local support for the trail, which could improve the chances of receiving grants in the future.
I have heard numerous people in the community and along the trail express their interest in the Dakota Rail Regional Trail, and in establishing access from the west.
Based on the long, drawn out history of this trail in McLeod County, I believe community support will be essential if the task force is to accomplish its goals.
I have enthusiastically used the Dakota Rail Regional Trail, and other trails across the state, and I have seen the power they have to draw people from a wide area.
I have also seen the positive benefits trails can provide to the communities through which they pass.
The issue in front of us, however, is not about whether trails are good or bad. It is about maximizing the investment that has already been made.
A significant amount of taxpayers’ money has been spent to develop the trail from Wayzata in the east, through Hennepin County, and across Carver County.
It is absurd to have this beautiful trail end in the middle of nowhere.
The time has come to take whatever steps are necessary to provide access from the west.
The job is not complicated, but it will require commitment, and the support of all those who are interested in the trail.
If enough people care about the project, and I believe they do, people will be able to accomplish this goal.
The new task force may help ignite this process, and I wish them well as they try to turn a trail to nowhere into a trail to somewhere.