By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN McLeod County was notified last fall it had been approved for a $647,000 Legacy 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.
However, there are still unanswered questions about whether the project will move forward.
First, the state legislature needs to approve the Legacy grants that were provisionally awarded last fall.
District 1 McLeod County Commissioner Ron Shimanski, who represents the eastern part of the county including Lester Prairie and Winsted, said the Legacy committee will likely be sending its package to the legislature in the next two weeks, because the committee deadline is coming up.
Then, house and senate versions of a bill will be introduced and reconciled, and eventually, if passed, the bill will be sent to the governor for his signature.
Then, assuming the grants are approved, McLeod County will have to accept or decline the $647,000 for completing the paving from Carver County to McLeod County Road 1.
Shimanski said the timing of this will depend on the legislature, but he does not expect the board to consider the matter before June.
“Yes, I am fully in support of this segment of the trail,” Shimanski said when asked if he will support accepting the grant when it comes before the county board. “We do need that link into McLeod County, and this connects one more of our McLeod County cities to the trail system.”
Shimanski also noted that completing the paving of the trail to McLeod County Road 1 on the west side of Lester Prairie creates a potential link to the Luce Line State Trail in Winsted.
Although he made it clear he supports development of the Dakota Trail through Lester Prairie, Shimanski said he is “not so enamored with the section west of the city, from Lester Prairie to Hutchinson.
He explained a lot of remedial work would need to be done to the trail corridor between Lester Prairie and Hutchinson, and this would take a lot of money and time.
Shimanski noted that some trail opponents have advocated slowing down and taking a good look at the situation before moving ahead with any future trail development.
“I think we have already looked at the Lester Prairie section pretty closely,” Shimanski said.
Lester Prairie Community Development Coordinator Adam Birkholz, who has worked to support the project on behalf of the city, noted there are no matching funds associated with this grant, and the money will be spent somewhere in the state, even if McLeod County were to turn down the grant.
Maintenance of the trail would be a local expense.
Birkholz said he has not heard any city residents express opposition to the trail.
Area residents previously raised $20,000 to pay to prepare a gravel surface so people could get from the paved portion of the trail, which ends at the Carver County border, to the city of Lester Prairie.
However, others in the county have expressed opposition to the trail.
Birkholz attended the Jan. 11 Bergen Township Board meeting, and requested a letter of support for the grant. The township board unanimously approved the letter of support.
At the Feb. 8 township board meeting, Birkholz asked the board to consider adopting a resolution of support for the trail. The board tabled the matter until the Tuesday, March 14 annual meeting.
“We’re trying to capitalize on investments of tax dollars that have already been made in developing the trail east of Lester Prairie [in Carver and Hennepin counties],” Birkholz commented.
Developing the Dakota Rail Regional Trail is part of McLeod County’s master trail plan, which was approved by the county board in 2016.