It's been a long time in the making, but construction of the Acorn Lake segment of the Heartland Trail between Detroit Lakes and Frazee is slated to begin in the next few weeks.

That portion of the trail has already been bid out, according to Detroit Lakes City Alderman Bruce Imholte; the contract was awarded to the St. Paul-based Carl Bolander & Sons construction company, at a cost of $2.85 million.

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"They're going to start construction in June," said Imholte, who is on the Heartland Trail planning committee.

"Right now we're still walking through some of the technical components with the contractors, and some utility issues," said Kent Skaar, the senior project manager for the parks and trails division of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The pre-planning for this segment of the trail has been a bit more difficult, he noted, because of the terrain: It's steep, and there has been some erosion in that area, so some reinforcement needs to be built.

"The slope is near vertical," said Skaar. "In order to stabilize that slope and bring the trail through, we'll be constructing a substantial vertical wall."

The retaining wall will be built using decorative precast concrete "that's been stained to look like granite," he added - and because of its location, there will be some pretty nice views for trail users once it's finished.

"It will provide a nice observational area overlooking Acorn Lake," Skaar said.

Skaar said the Heartland Trail segment running between Detroit Lakes and Frazee has actually been broken out into four phases, with at least the Acorn Lake phase slated for completion by the end of summer.

The second phase could also start construction yet this year, he added. That segment runs from Acorn Lake north to the tunnel under Highway 10, on the east side of Detroit Lakes.

"The plan is essentially complete," said Skaar. "We're walking through the final review with MnDOT (the Minnesota Department of Transportation) and the utility companies as well."

The intent is to let bids for Phase 2 later this summer, and start work in the fall, but "the vast majority of construction will be in 2020," Skaar said.

Imholte was a bit disgruntled that Phase 2 would not be completed this year, as it is the portion of the trail that physically connects the Acorn Lake segment to Detroit Lakes.

"We were hoping that they were going to do the piece from Acorn Lake west to the tunnel this summer, but it turns out they're having some problems with right of way issues yet," he said.

Skaar clarified this, noting that the delay has mainly been "to address natural resource considerations as much as anything else."

Specifically, he said, there are some endangered species that live in the area which require the trees they inhabit to be left intact until fall.

"We've got a limited period of time where we can remove trees for a construction project," Skaar said. "In this case we have to wait until late October or early November to begin the tree cutting process."

Skaar added that the trees affected by this restriction are those which are four inches in diameter or more. Because of this restriction, "most of the work will take place in 2020."

Phase 3 (which is not affected by the environmental restrictions that Phase 2 has been) could possibly be completed yet this year, Skaar said, depending on weather conditions.

"The third piece is the Becker County Highway 10 crossing," Skaar said. "Down just on the south side of Acorn Lake, County Highway 10 heads into Frazee and because we will continue the trail parallel to TH 10 we'll be crossing over Becker County 10, basically at the intersection with TH 10. That will be a bridge, and that's currently in design as we speak.

We may see that project go out for construction yet this year and if so, that's a component that can actually carry some of it much later. There are no trees to remove, as an example, for the bridge itself so those restrictions don't play a role. And it's the kind of facility that some of it can be done once the weather gets cold, provided the concrete piers and things have been poured and are in place."

The reason for this, he added, is that the trail bridge itself will be made out of steel, which can continue to be worked on even after the temperature starts getting down below freezing. The portion that is weather dependent, Skaar added, is the actual pathway across the bridge, which will be made out of poured concrete - and concrete cannot be allowed to freeze until after it's dry.

"That will connect to the Acorn Lake segment that's being constructed this year, so there'll be some continuity there," Skaar said.

The fourth piece of the project, he added, would extend from the bridge crossing of County 10 on its south side and run parallel to TH 10 all the way to the TH 87 intersection as it comes into Frazee.

"For now, the state trail would stop on the south side of Town Lake at the Otter Tail River," Skaar said, noting that MnDOT is planning to include a multi-use trail in its project to upgrade TH 87.

"They're going to be making improvements to widen sidewalks as well as the crossing of Town Lake, to accommodate pedestrian and bike traffic," he said. "Because the Heartland Trail is a motorized trail for snowmobile use we will still be working with the City of Frazee to determine how snowmobiles will use the corridor but get through Frazee at some point. "We have no trail on the other side of Frazee, but the intent would be to continue all the way into Park Rapids. That's how it's currently authorized."

Skaar noted that the fourth phase of the project to complete the Heartland Trail from Detroit Lakes into downtown Frazee is still in the feasibility study portion of the process.

"It's getting there, but it's been a long process," said Imholte, talking about the Heartland Trail project as a whole. He added that State Rep. Paul Marquart (D-Dilworth), Sen. Kent Eken (D-Twin Valley), and Sen. Paul Utke (R-Park Rapids) have all been involved in helping to secure funding and smooth the way for the project's completion.

"They've been very helpful," Imholte said.

Skaar said that the local planning committee for the Heartland Trail project has been instrumental in the process as well.

"This project is being driven locally," he said, adding, "It is to their credit that it is moving forward at all."