By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN McLeod County has been notified by the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks & Trails Commission that it has received a $647,000 grant to develop Phase 1 of the Dakota Rail Regional Trail project from Carver County to McLeod County Road 1 on the west side of Lester Prairie.
McLeod County Parks Administrator Al Koglin presented the information to the county board during its Dec. 20 meeting.
“Our residents are excited about it,” noted Lester Prairie Economic Development Coordinator Adam Birkholz. He said development of the trail will help the housing market in Lester Prairie, as well as improving economic development opportunities and helping current businesses in the city.
Lester Prairie resident Chris Schultz, who has been an active advocate for the trail for years, reflected on the grant award. “Seven years of time and effort. Now, it’s great to finally see it being accomplished. $647,000 is a tremendous quality of life investment into Lester Prairie and Minnesota’s trail system.
“And now, we really need to look hard at how we’re going to use it, how we’re going to take advantage of it, and what we are going to do with it to improve our quality-of-life in the future,” Schultz commented.
Koglin said $45,000 to $50,000 is included in the grant for trailhead amenities in the City of Lester Prairie (including a parking area). He said the city will have some input on what amenities are included. If the city wants amenities, such as an informational kiosk, that are not included in the grant, it may be necessary for interested parties to do some separate fundraising, Koglin noted.
He added that it is likely that the trailhead would be located in Central Square Park in downtown Lester Prairie.
Birkholz noted the grant uses Legacy funds, which will be spent whether or not the project in Lester Prairie goes forward.
He also noted that no up-front local matching funds are required, but responsibility for long-term maintenance of the trail will need to be worked out.
Birkholz said the proposed project includes a 10-foot-wide paved trail with 2-foot shoulders. No easements or land acquisition will be required, because all development will take place within the existing trail corridor, he added.
The award is based on a $33,000 in-kind county match to be fulfilled with engineering services, primarily from McLeod County, but also including the City of Hutchinson.
Koglin said the grant includes replacement of a bridge east of Lester Prairie. He said some people have voiced opposition to this, but he explained that the funding to replace the bridge is in the grant, and it is unknown if the county would be awarded funding to replace it in the future.
All funding recommendations made by the commission must receive legislative approval during the 2017 legislative session.
Grants awarded by the commission are executed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
After funding recommendations have been approved by the legislature, the DNR will contact the county to complete the DNR application that is required to process the grant for the project.
Funding is expected to be available in July 2017, but no work can begin on the project until that process is complete.
Koglin said he hopes to find out next year if planning can start earlier if there are no costs associated with it.
Koglin said it is not clear yet when construction could begin. He said he hopes it could start in the fall of 2017, but, if not, “2018 will be a very busy year.”
Development of the Dakota Rail Regional Trail is the first item on the county’s master plan for parks and trails that was approved previously, Koglin said.
Koglin said he does not have a clear time when the paperwork would be ready for board approval, but he hopes this will be in May or June 2017.
He also said he expects to have further discussions with the county board in January about what direction the board wants to go, including whether or not the board wants to identify Phase 2 of the trail development for future grant applications.
Koglin said he hopes to have a plan in place by May.
Now that a grant has been approved to complete the Lester Prairie portion of the trail, Schultz expressed the need for everyone involved in the trail across the county to work together.
“We need to learn to trust each other, and work hard to complete other parts of the trail,” Schultz commented.
The funding approved was a portion of the total grant application for $3.6 million.
The scope of the total project involves paving 18 miles of the Dakota Rail Regional Trail from the Carver County line west to the City of Hutchinson.
Preparation of the base, paving, and some additional work are included.
Three bridges along the trail would also be replaced.
McLeod County Board authorized Koglin to move forward with an application for a Legacy grant for the project in September on a 3-2 vote, with commissioners Paul Wright, Sheldon Nies, and Joe Nagel in favor, and commissioners Ron Shimanski and Doug Krueger opposed.