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In bits and pieces, Heartland Trail is coming together

Guy Fischer, economic development coordinator for Becker County, talks about potential routes for the Heartland Trail in Lake Park. File photo.

Good news on the Heartland Trail between Detroit Lakes and Frazee: The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway has agreed to let the trail be built on its right-of-way along the north side of Frazee Road.

So the trail will run along parts of old Highway 10 from Detroit Lakes to Acorn Lake, then run between Acorn Lake and Highway 10, crossing Frazee Road at the Indy 500 Road crossing, run along the Brink Lake restoration project, and follow Frazee Road into Frazee.

(Brink Lake was drained in 1915 by a county ditch. It was restored in 2014-- a Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources project—by filling in the ditch, while installing a new concrete riser and pipe to serve as the new outlet to the lake.)

The preliminary agreement with the railway is not yet in writing, but if it goes through, it clears away a major roadblock and will allow trail construction to start next year, said Becker County Economic Development Coordinator Guy Fischer.

"It's pretty exciting," Fischer said. "We have in excess of $5 million, so we should be able to connect." He expects the Acorn Lake segment of the trail, the most difficult section, will be done next year, and the rest perhaps the following year. The project will also include bank stabilization for Highway 10 near Acorn Lake.

"I can't say for sure if the other areas will be constructed in 2018," he said. "There are easement issues, and connectivity issues into Frazee."

Getting the Frazee to Detroit Lakes segment of the trail built has been a long process, said Frazee Mayor Hank Ludtke. "This next year will be 14 years we've been working on it," he said. Back then, the original cost estimate to extend the Heartland Trail from Park Rapids to Moorhead was $20 million.

"We'll have $7 million into it just between Frazee and Detroit Lakes," Ludtke said, "just because of the increase in construction costs over the last 14 years." It now costs up to $250,000 a mile to build a multi-use trail.

Money is always an issue, but in bits and pieces, there is a lot going on with trails in Becker County, Fischer said.

A $700,000, 1.75-mile trail from Detroit Mountain Recreation Area to the county-owned Mountain View Recreation Area to the intersection of County Road 54 (the Hidden Hills Road) and Highway 10 is coming together nicely, Fischer said.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation, which is redesigning that intersection and installing traffic lights, has agreed to pay about $85,000 for a pedestrian-trail crossing there. "That's a big deal, that they're willing to do that," said Fischer. "From a safety perspective, they want people to connect into the underpass." The trail underpass in the area was built under Highway 10 several years ago. "Even though there will be a traffic light there (at the intersection) they'd much prefer people go around and use the underpass," Fischer said.

It would be more efficient to do all the work at the same time MnDOT is making improvements to the intersection, he said.

The new bridge over the BNSF rail corridor in Lake Park will have a wide lane for bikes and pedestrians, but the Heartland Trail itself will likely run east to west on the north side of the railroad tracks, staying clear of railroad right-of-way, Fischer said. There is also a push by people in the Cormorant area to include a trail there.

"There's a need to do more comprehensive planning for those communities (Audubon, Lake Park and Cormorant)," he said.

There is also an effort by people in the Shoreham area to build a trail from County Road 22 through the WE Fest area to Dunton Locks, where it would connect to the existing trail along the Pelican River into Detroit Lakes by the bowling alley.

"They're floating the idea to see if there's any support for it," Fischer said.

A trail is also part of the preliminary plan for West Lake Drive improvements, to eventually connect with the trail along the Pelican River to Dunton Locks.

Clay County recently requested funding for a Heartland Trail segment from Hawley to Buffalo River State Park, and there is some language that any residual funds from that effort would come back to Becker County, Fischer said.

If more money become available, the next priority for the Heartland Trail will be on the other side of the county— the Park Rapids to Osage segment.

MnDOT has done some clearing and brush-removal work for about a mile on the north side of Highway 34 to prepare for eventual trail-paving. "That's ready to go—it's a question of any sort of money—when do we go with it,"' Fischer said.

A preliminary route study has already been done for the trail segment from Park Rapids to Wolf Lake, hopefully through the Smoky Hills State Forest, he added. "There are issues, but we've done some legwork that way," he said.

The Heartland Trail from the Smoky Hills would ultimately connect to a trail along Highway 87, and MnDOT is looking at enlarging the shoulders for eight to 10 miles on Highway 87 to accommodate Amish buggies. "It's been a real safety issue—if you go out there, you'll encounter those folks on the road," he said. Those wider shoulders on Highway 87 could also perhaps accommodate segments of the Heartland Trail, Fischer said.

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