Where to put the trail?
DETROIT LAKES - With several options to take a look at, the Heartland Trail connect from Park Rapids to Moorhead is a "blank canvas" at this point.
Those are the words of Tim Browning, Department of Natural Resources Northwest regional manager of the Trails and Waterways Division.
Browning, John Stewart and Laurie Young held the first open house in Detroit Lakes Thursday evening. They will be making their way through the area over the next couple weeks, looking for input and suggestions on routes for the trail.
Young has already been meeting with city, county and community leaders, asking for certain areas that should be featured along the trail.
"It's essential to the success of the project," she said of talking to community members. She has also talked with representatives of the Scenic Byway and some in the Fargo-Moorhead area. She intends to speak with snowmobilers and other trail users as well.
"There is a lot of interest and support for the trail," she said. "They'd like to see it happen for a variety of reasons." Those reasons include recreation for the community members and a draw to bring tourism.
With a total of $1.75 million in 2006 and 2008 bonding money, Browning said it is a "long way from the total cost (of building the trails), but it'll get us started."
That money will pay for the initial engineering, feasibility, etc. stages of the trail and help the DNR "get our ducks in a row," he continued.
Although some segments of the trail seem more logical and feasible, Browning said the state will not start building the trail without a full plan of how the sections will tie together or without money in hand. That money will likely come from state bonding and federal enhancement dollars.
"Interest is increasing," Browning said of the public awareness. "We're getting an idea of what the public wants."
One group in complete support of the proposed trail expansion is the Lakes Area Bike Club. Member Kim Karjala, Perham, said she is in favor of the trail, but would like to see it routed somewhere other than only along Highway 34 from Park Rapids to Detroit Lakes, one of the proposed trail routes.
"Not just along 34, but a little bit of a differentiation, with access into the smaller towns," she said, adding there's so much beautiful land to show off.
Browning said the purpose of the meetings is to get other ideas, not just the DNR's. Young agreed that there have "absolutely" been new ideas for routes that the DNR hadn't even thought of originally.
"It's a lot of fun to learn about the wonderful amenities this area has to offer," she said.
After the public meetings, Young will take the data and suggestions back to her office and work up a master plan, the next step in the process.
"The master plan is for the trail to direct how we develop it, where we develop it," Browning said. "Our goal is to nail the alignment down and craft a master plan by this fall."
The remaining public open houses for community members to give their input on the trail are from 5-7 p.m. at Frazee on June 24 at the Frazee Event Center; Wolf Lake on June 25 at the Wolf Lake Lions Hall; Moorhead on July 8 at the Hjemkomst Center; and Park Rapids on July 9 at the Northwoods Bank Conference Room.
Additional questions and comments may be directed to Laurie Young, planning supervisor, Box 52, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul MN 55155, (651) 259-5638 or email@example.com.