By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Lester Prairie is looking for people to serve on a new trail task force to help bring the Dakota Rail Regional Trail to the city.
The Dakota Rail right-of-way passes through the middle of town, but the developed portion of the trail ends at the Carver County line east of the city and the nearest access from a public road is in Carver County.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the city council approved the formation of a trail task force.
The task force will consist of five people, who need not be residents of the city.
Mayor Andy Heimerl, who proposed the task force, said it will be asked to research options and costs to provide access to the trail from the west, and report its findings to the city council.
The task force will also be asked to coordinate fundraising efforts for the trail.
Anyone interested in serving on the task force may contact the Lester Prairie city office at (320) 395-2646.
The former railroad corridor, which extends 44 miles from Wayzata to Hutchinson, is paved from the east end to the western border of Carver County.
In recent years, the McLeod County Regional Rail Authority, which owns the portion of the corridor in McLeod County, has applied for grant funds through the state Parks and Trails Legacy Grant program.
The Lester Prairie City Council, the Hutchinson City Council, and the McLeod County Board have all adopted resolutions of support for development of the trail.
So far, the project has not received grant funding.
There have been attempts to provide access from Lester Prairie to the developed portion of the trail, but a small bridge on the section of the corridor between Lily Street in the East Park Estates development in Lester Prairie and the Carver County border has been declared unsafe.
A temporary measure to provide access from a field approach off of McLeod County Road 23 east of the bridge proved unsuccessful due to conflict with a private landowner.
Recently, options including repairing the existing bridge to make it usable, or replacing it with a box culvert, have been discussed, but funding sources for such a project have not been identified.
The rail authority has applied for a grant again this year, but Heimerl noted he wants a trail project to move forward in some manner even if a grant is not received this year.
Currently, the McLeod County Rail Authority leases 19 miles of the corridor in McLeod County to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). If the two-mile section between Carver County and Lester Prairie is paved, that area would most likely be removed from the lease, but future ownership and maintenance hasn’t been determined.
Members of the community expressed support for the project during a public meeting scheduled by the council in 2012, but the issue has yet to be resolved.
The new task force will be asked to help the city find a solution.