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Locals make pitch for state bonding funds

Welcome to Detroit Lakes: Alice Hausman, chair of the House bonding committee, meets DL Mayor Matt Brenk, right, and former Mayor Larry Buboltz at The Lodge. BRIAN BASHAM/DL NEWSPAPERS

Hopes are high that a $3.1 million request to build a 10-mile Heartland Trail segment between Detroit Lakes and Frazee will be included in the legislative bonding bill next year.

“We feel like it’s our turn in the queue here,” said Detroit Lakes Alderman Bruce Imholte. “It’s been about 10 years since we first started talking to them.”

Detroit Lakes had one of its best boosters on hand — former mayor Larry Buboltz —to sell the plan to lawmakers who stopped in Detroit Lakes Thursday on a tour of proposed projects.

Buboltz made his pitch on a bus ride from Moorhead to Detroit Lakes. He and three others — Becker County Environmental Services Director Steve Skoog, Detroit Lakes Chamber Board Director Chris Mehlhaff, and Frazee Mayor Hank Ludtke — drove to Moorhead to meet the lawmakers and rode back with them on the bus.

“The time is right for this to happen,” said Mehlhaff. “There’s a lot of momentum and growth in Detroit Lakes — it will just pull all these projects together.”

The Detroit Mountain Recreation Area will fit in nicely with the Heartland Trail, and together with trails being built through Detroit Lakes, will help make the area a destination for bicyclists, snowmobilers and other trail enthusiasts, she said.

“One of the big reasons we should have priority is there are no state bike trails in northwest Minnesota, and we should have one,” Buboltz said.

Other lake communities, including Park Rapids, Brainerd and Bemidji, are served by major multi-purpose trails —often built on abandoned railroad corridors.

The railroad corridors in this part of the state are still very much in use, so extending the Heartland Trail from Park Rapids to Moorhead via Detroit Lakes has been a more complicated process.

The Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce gets frequent inquiries about biking and year-round recreation trails in the area, and has to admit there is not much available yet, Mehlhaff said.

The Minnesota House included $3 million for the Detroit Lakes-to-Frazee trail in its last bonding bill, but the overall bill failed to clear the Senate.

Buboltz said that, once on the bus, he thanked the members of the House Capital Investment Committee for their past support.

He said the vice chair of the committee John Ward of Baxter and committee member Jay McNamar of Elbow Lake are very supportive, as is Rep. Paul Marquart, although he is not on the committee. All are DFLers, who control the House, but a “supermajority” is needed to pass a bonding bill, so Republican support is needed.

Rep. Steve Green of Fosston, a Republican who is on the bonding committee and represents most of Becker County, “didn’t say yes,” to the trail project, Buboltz said.          Green voted no on the bonding bill in the last session.

Alice Hausman, the committee chairwoman and a DFLer from St. Paul, said she understands the economic impact that multi-use trails can have on communities, both for tourism and to attract young professionals to work in the area.

Legislative leaders agreed at the end of last session that an $850 million bonding bill was needed for the upcoming session, she said.

Priorities will be higher education, wastewater treatment, other statewide needs “and some of these local projects,” she said.

“The bonding bill has to be fair to the whole state,” she said. “I’m a strong supporter of these trails. We look for strong local support.”

Buboltz told lawmakers that people in this area have put their   money where their mouth is, demonstrating strong local support.

Detroit Lakes has spent or committed about $745,000 on trails through the city, Essentia Health has committed $124,000 on a trailway through its property and the Sanford Health trailway cost about $27,000.

Frazee kicked in $47,500 to purchase Acorn Lake property needed for the Frazee to Detroit Lakes trail, and Becker County has agreed to pay for a mile of the multi-use trail.

Buboltz pointed out that design is done, the project is shovel-ready, and that a tunnel has already been built under Highway 10 East as part of the project.

He said $100,000 of the $3.1 million request is for the conceptual design phase of the Heartland Trail project from Moorhead to Hawley.

The trail will eventually link the Fargo-Moorhead metro area, with a population of more than 200,000, to Detroit Lakes, Park Rapids, Walker and beyond (via the Paul Bunyan Trail system) some 130 miles to Bemidji and Baxter.

The state has already invested $1.75 million in preliminary work on the Frazee to Detroit Lakes trail, including $250,000 for land acquisition and $1.5 million for engineering work, constructing the Highway 10 East trail underpass, and trail construction from the underpass into Detroit Lakes.

A plan for a multiuse trail from Perham to Pelican Rapids through Maplewood State Park was also proposed to the capital Investment Committee during its stop Thursday at the Lodge on the Lake in Detroit Lakes.

Otter Tail County Commissioner Wayne Johnson made the pitch for preliminary design funding to support the 29-mile trail. He said local governments and organizations have so far committed $68,000 to the project.

He said the Central Lakes Trail in Otter Tail County could eventually be connected to the Heartland Trail.

The Legislature will convene at noon on Feb. 25.

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