By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Lester Prairie’s new trail task force received general instructions during last Monday’s city council meeting that will allow the group to begin moving forward.
The seven-member task force was approved in October. Members are:
• Gordon Houk
• Craig Heimerl
• Dave Klitzke
• Mary Ann Teubert
• Jennifer Thiry
• Sarah Heuer
• Mary Behrens
The first order of business for the group will be to conduct an organizational meeting during which it will elect a chairperson and a secretary.
Task force members will also need to determine when they will meet.
Lester Prairie Park Board Member Chris Schultz, who is also part of the McLeod County Rail Authority, and who has been involved in promoting the Dakota Rail Regional Trail, said the task force should invite Al Koglin of McLeod County Parks and Kristy Rice of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to its second meeting to get their input on the trail.
Schultz explained the portion of the trail in McLeod County is owned by the McLeod County Rail Authority and leased to the DNR, so any work done on the trail at this time other than picking up litter along the trail right-of-way must follow DNR guidelines.
Mayor Andy Heimerl said his goal is to see the trail developed to the west side of the city, at least as far as McLeod County Road 1, so all city residents will have access to it.
Schultz said the rail authority has submitted a $682,000 grant application for development of the trail, the fifth application that has been submitted.
Of that amount, about $100,000 is for removal and replacement of a small bridge between McLeod County Road 9 and Carver County.
Recently, that bridge was improved using materials from another bridge.
He said the rail authority has also been working on an application for a transportation grant.
Schultz said if the rail authority is successful in getting a grant to develop the trail, that portion of the trail would be removed from the DNR lease.
The distance from the Carver County border to McLeod County Road 1 is about 2.1 miles.
He said the rail authority should know by the beginning of January if its grant application has been approved.
City Clerk Marilyn Pawelk distributed a copy of the current lease application to the task force members for their information.
Schultz mentioned two factors that may help the rail authority secure a grant to develop the trail.
The Luce Line State Trail, which runs roughly parallel to the Dakota Rail trail, has received $1.732 million in a bonding bill in May. A 23-mile section from Carver County to McLeod County Road 115 west of Hutchinson is expected to be paved next year.
As a result, the Luce Line and the Dakota Rail Regional Trail are no longer competing for resources.
Another factor that could improve the chances of Lester Prairie getting grant funding is that the trail would provide access to Sunrise Nature Park, along McLeod County Road 9, which was funded by the DNR.
This access could help the Dakota Rail project score higher on grant applications, according to Schultz.
Heimerl expressed his appreciation to the volunteers who have stepped up to serve on the task force.