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What’s ahead for the DC trail?
Feb. 29, 2016

Commitee seeks maintenance agreement

By Heather Reinhart

DASSEL, COKATO, MN – The 4.8-mile paved trail that runs along Highway 12 between the cities of Dassel and Cokato was built in 1994, through a joint venture between the cites of Dassel and Cokato, Dassel Township, Cokato Township, and the Dassel-Cokato School District.

The trail is used regularly by walkers, joggers, and bikers who are out for exercise, and is a way for students to get to school without needing to walk along the busy highway.

The trail was paid for, in large part, by a MnDOT grant. At the time it was built, the five participating entities were not looking to the future. But they are now.

“When the trail was first put in, unfortunately, at the time, the people involved didn’t make a maintenance plan,” said Irene Bender, vice-chair of the DC School Board and a member of the DC Trail Committee. “It’s very important to the community and it’s theirs. So, we have a responsibility to maintain it.”

But maintaining it comes at a price. A resurfacing project was completed in October 2015, at a cost of $38,645. The various entities all put money toward the project and fundraisers took place to raise the rest.

“I’ve worked very hard on the project, and we were able to complete the resurfacing of the trail this fall,” Bender said, referring to the DC Trail Committee.

While grant money helped pay for the initial building of the trail, it is not available now, as the 8-foot-wide trail does not meet the criteria to participate in the Parks and Trails Legacy Grant Program. According to the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission, trails need to be a minimum of 10 feet wide to even be considered for a Legacy Grant.

The DC Trail Committee would like to get all five entities that are involved to sign a memo of understanding in which they would agree to set aside $5,000 per year to go toward trail maintenance. The issue is being brought up now, while entities are planning their 2017 budgets.

Dassel Mayor Jeff Putnam said the city of Dassel is already onboard.

“Our overall goal is to get a joint powers agreement in place,” Putnam said. “I’ve gotten nothing but support when I’ve talked to people about it.”

But not all groups are sure the trail meets the needs of their citizens.

“I’ve never been on the trail,” said Dean Mahlstedt, Cokato Township Board chairman.

Mahlstedt said Cokato Township does not currently maintain any trails or parks and has never purchased equipment (such as lawn mowers) to do so. He suggested that the county take over the trail, which could be connected to Collinwood Lake Park.

“It has no use or benefit to the township,” Mahlstedt said. “We’ve brought it to the townspeople (in the past) and voted not to do anything.”

Dassel Township Board Supervisor Erhard Woetzel recently took over a spot on the DC Trail Committee and said he has informed the township board about the proposed memo of understanding, although they have not discussed it yet.

Woetzel said he supports the trail as it stands now, but has heard rumors about it potentially being expanded in the future. He said the township budget is already very tight, and they struggle to maintain their own roads. He said the board will need to discuss the matter further before making a decision.

“There’s nothing wrong with the trail and I have no problem with it,” he said. “But how far beyond that we’d extend ourselves, I can’t say.”

The townships each have their annual meetings coming up Tuesday, March 8, where citizens run the meeting and bring up business they want to discuss. That night, the board is simply there to listen.

Mahlstedt said the memo of understanding seems rushed. He’d like to see all five of the entities come up with a solid maintenance plan for the trail, talk about it, and then vote on it.

“We’re not going to rush people through,” he said.

Cokato Mayor Gordy Erickson said he believes the trail is vital to the community.

“I definitely support it,” he said. “It’s such an asset to the cities and the school district — especially to keep our kids safe going to school.”

Erickson and Putnam both recommend that citizens who use the trail attend their city or township meetings to encourage their elected officials to support the trail. Putnam is hopeful that an agreement can be reached.

“People use that to get to the high school,” he said. “It keeps our kids from walking and biking on our highway. We’d be idiots to let the trail go.”

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