Local patience pays off as Heartland Trail shows promise
“When I first heard it would cost $20 million and take a number of years, I thought, ‘That can’t be right,’” former Frazee Mayor Hank Ludtke told the crowd at the Heartland Trail ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday. “They said ‘you can’t just go out in the middle of the night with a Caterpillar and make your own trail.’ I thought, ‘obviously, you don’t know us very well.’”
It was a long, winding road that covered 15 years and $7.5 million to get the first stretch of Heartland Trail open in Becker County, but it holds a lot of promise for good things to come.
The five-mile stretch of paved multi-purpose trail between Detroit Lakes and Acorn Lake near Frazee is already popular with bicyclists, and it was music to the ears of Detroit Lakes Chamber Tourism Director Cleone Stewart when a couple bikers came by on Thursday, and didn’t want to stop for the trail ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“‘We’re here from the Twin Cities and heard it was open — we just want to ride it,’” she said they told her.
“How cool is that?” she asked the crowd at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“This trail is going to be fantastic, I’ve seen a lot of people using it,” agreed Burlington Township Supervisor Rick Billett. “I can’t wait ‘til it gets to the big turkey — the World’s Biggest Turkey (in Frazee),” he added with a grin.
It’s been tough for local officials to be patient while the funding, engineering, land acquisition and construction wound their way slowly through the system.
“When I first heard it would cost $20 million and take a number of years, I thought, ‘That can’t be right,’” former Frazee Mayor Hank Ludtke told the crowd at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday, July 1. “They said, ‘You can’t just go out in the middle of the night with a Caterpillar and make your own trail.’ I thought, ‘Obviously, you don’t know us very well.’”
Becker County isn’t doing any midnight Caterpillar work, but it’s doing the next best thing: The county Highway Department is “overseeing the design and connection of the trail east of here into Frazee,” Becker County Commissioner Ben Grimsley said at the Acorn Lake ceremony.
With less red tape to contend with, and staff not stretched so thin, the county can do it cheaper and faster than the Minnesota DNR, which usually handles state trail construction in Minnesota.
“I think it’s just going to take off from here,” Grimsley said. “It’s just going to get better and better … I look forward to miles of trails to come.”
He added that “patience, perseverance and faith were exercised by all involved in this project.”
Commissioner John Okeson added a shout-out to “property owners along the trail who worked with designers and engineers to get this trail done.” And he thanked all the people who served on the trail committee over the years.
The opening of the Heartland Trail segment comes at a good time, said Theresa Ebbenga, northwest regional director for the DNR.
“This year we have seen a huge uptick in people wanting to enjoy the outdoors and connect with nature,” she said. “We look forward to working with all of you to connect this from Moorhead all the way to Cass Lake, eventually.”
Retired Detroit Lakes Alderman Bruce Imholte deserves a lot of the credit for seeing the trail segment completed, said Detroit Lakes Mayor Matt Brenk.
“Bruce, you really carried the torch on this deal and I don’t think this would have happened without you,” Brenk said.
Future trail expansion plans in Detroit Lakes include extending the trail along the City Beach and linking it to the Dunton Locks trail that runs along the Pelican River.
“It’s important to underscore how much we’ve accomplished locally,” Brenk said. “Being able to ride from Dunton Locks to Frazee is no short trip.”
The trail is going to be a “wonderful way to really showcase this area,” noted State Sen. Kent Eken. “This really is a team effort,” he told the group. “It takes a high level of dedication and determination. You deserve credit for getting this done.”
“Thanks, senator,” Imholte said, “you and (State Rep. Paul) Marquart, for sure, if we needed something, from the beginning you were there for us.”