NEW ULM - A smattering of trail enthusiasts and a few landowners who oppose the concept attended a Minnesota River State Trail open house Tuesday at the New Ulm Community Center.
Legislatively authorized, the Minnesota River State Trail will connect Big Stone Lake State Park northwest of Ortonville to Le Sueur. Specific trail alignments have not been determined, except for a four-mile segment from Ortonville to the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge, and four-mile segments linking Montevideo and Wegdahl and near Lac qui Parle Lake, all in the Minnesota River Valley.
When complete, the Minnesota River State Trail will stretch more than 175 miles, from Big Stone Lake State Park north of Ortonville to Le Sueur and to the western end of the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail in Mankato.
Trail draft plans identify a corridor in which specific alignments will be sought. Project goals including working with willing landowners and road authorities to acquire right-of-way that showcases Minnesota River Valley landscape features.
Recommended trail uses are bicycling, hiking, walking, running/jogging, in-line skating/skate skiing, fishing access, horseback riding, environmental education/interpretation, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.
"Funded mostly by grants, the trail will bolster the rural economy," said Laurie Young of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Parks and Trails Division, St. Paul.
"We have enormous challenges for a trail to be built on privately-owned land since we currently have no public option to support the trail," Young said. "Other challenges are steep bluffs and slopes, flooding and trying to minimize impact on natural resources."
Young said the project presents cities and counties interested in trail development opportunities to coordinate with the Minnesota State Highway Department (MnDOT) and other organizations.
"In Le Sueur, the city wasn't able to generate some trail matching funds, so the county did it for them, Young said.
"There is no automatic (Minnesota River State Trail) money, but the process has brought together dozens of organizations," said retired Wabasso school superintendent Ted Suss.
Young called rivers a "tremendous resource" for conservation, education, economic development and recreation.
"The DNR has more land than it can properly manage now. How can it pay for this?" a man asked.
"User fees," Young said.
"Bicyclists pay no tax," the man said. "How about a bicycle tax? Even a $5 to $10 tax for each bicyclist could go a long way."
Greg Bartz, whose property on a trail, of rural Sleepy Eye said issues for adjacent landowners include vandalism, garbage and trespassing.
Young said she hasn't found littering to be a major problem on other parts of the Minnesota River State Trail.
"I say it is," Bartz said.
Mankato bicycling enthusiast Tom Engstrom said property owners next to trails found their land values went up because of the trails.
"Bikers, walkers and runners don't throw trash around our trails," Engstrom said.
Bartz said he picked up lots of garbage on his property on the Sleepy Eye Lake trail and found evidence of trespassing on his property.
Engstrom suggested requiring trail users to manage trails if need be.
A woman said Stillwater Township trail users want to stop hunting rights around the trail.
Young said hunting is legal in trail right-of-way unless it's prohibited by local ordinances.
"As a horseback rider, I stay away from trails during hunting season. It's common sense," a woman said.
Young said future Minnesota River State Trail open houses will be held 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Thursday, May 9 at the Mankato Intergovernmental Center Mankato Room, 10 Civic Center Plaza.
Data gathered at open houses will be presented again in New Ulm and Mankato in November.
For more information including Minnesota River State Trail Draft Plans, visit www.dnr.state.mn.us/input/mgmtplans/trails/mnriver.html
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org).