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Heartland Trail from Park Rapids to Detroit Lakes under study

Planning is under way for the Heartland Trail extension west to Detroit Lakes and other destinations but construction of the first segment may be four years away.

Lori Young of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Trails and Waterways has been meeting with the Park Rapids Parks and Beautification Board. Tuesday night she made a presentation to the Park Rapids Council on the progress of work on the extension.

Alignment in the city is one task. She said the new trail would start at Heartland Park, go through Red Bridge Park and proceed west, running parallel to Highway 34 and past the DNR Forestry office. From there the trail could follow Highway 34 right-of-way toward Osage or one mile north of the highway.

"We are identifying trail corridors," Young said. "We are searching areas where a specific alignment could be located."

From Osage, the extension may go south to Wolf Lake and west to Frazee and then to Detroit Lakes along Highway 10. Eventually to reach the Red River in Moorhead, the trail will pass through Buffalo River State Park.

The process is much more difficult than citing the original Heartland Trail which was laid on an abandoned railroad bed, she said. "There isn't a lot of public land to work with and much of the possible alignment is hilly with a lot of wetlands."

Young told the council she wanted first to make them aware of the plans, hear any concerns members may have and their thoughts on the route.

She explained the Legislature appropriated $1.5 million this year and has $250,000 from an earlier allocation for development and acquisition. The eventual cost is an unknown, she added.

The trail will be done in phases, but what segment is done first depends on where it goes.

She asked the council about the importance of strengthening a connection to downtown.

Mayor Nancy Carroll said bringing the trail across Red Bridge Park would be a benefit.

Council member Ted Godfrey asked if there would be an alternate trail for snowmobiles in the plan.

"We've heard snowmbilers would like a connection," Young said.

Godfrey said that as a former member of the snowmobile club at Nevis he has seen the economic benefit of bringing snowmobilers to an area. "They spend money," Godfrey said.

"We can work on it in the planning process," said Young. A trail for snowmobiles "is an issue we'll have to figure out. There is a pretty well developed system in the area," she said. "But the plan would accommodate all the uses of the Heartland Trail now."

To increase awareness of the plan, Young said, the DNR will be holding an open house in Park Rapids in the next month and inviting people to attend and to comment on text and maps.

She said she will work with the Parks & Beautification Board on the open house.

Carroll suggested including local bike riding groups.

Sue Cutler, chair of the Parks and Beautification Board, gave an annual report, praising former city administrator Brian Weuve's support of city parks and the board's efforts.

Cutler told the council that when Headwaters regional Development Commission (HRDC) staff started working on a comprehensive parks and trails plan for the city, "he characterized our parks as having suffered a long culture of benign neglect.

"Brian really put more emphasis on them... and we are hoping that will continue on without him," Cutler said.

One omission from the comprehensive plan, "one piece that was omitted inadvertently," she said, was a master plan for Pioneer Park.

She passed out a plan, asking the council to add it as an addendum to the HRDC plan.

The plan for the park on the second block of Main Avenue South calls for a public restroom. Cutler said it would be ideal to make improvements to the park after the Main street infrastructure project is finished in 2010 or n 2011.

"We would like to make it much more attractive than it is now," she said.

Another priority is landscaping and a drinking fountain at Depot Park, she said. "It is a very nice park three-quarters of the way done."

The board also has bee meeting with the DNR on the Crocus Hill property south of CSAH 15 and discussing a Partners for Parks program to involve service clubs and others in park projects.

Cutler said before Weuve left last fall, he was handling the parks budget. Since then, city planner Mike Strodtman has been bringing the board members up to speed on the budget and budgeting process.

"There is nothing for repair and upkeep," Cutler observed, adding the board will be working on recommendations for the 2009 budget including repairs at the base of the red bridge and stone building at Red Bridge Park.