By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN McLeod County residents, elected officials, and city and county staff members discussed a proposed master plan for the Dakota Rail Regional Trail during an open house at the depot in Hutchinson May 9.
According to the draft plan, the McLeod County Dakota Rail corridor master planning process provides a vision for a multi-use trail extending approximately 18 miles from the McLeod/Carver line west into the City of Hutchinson.
Combined with the 26 miles already developed in Carver and Hennepin Counties, this would create a 44-mile regional trail linking McLeod County to the western suburbs of the Twin Cities.
The master plan outlines the development requirements and operating costs associated with constructing and managing an 18-mile regional trail facility.
The plan was written by a working group made up of staff from McLeod County and the City of Hutchinson.
The Dakota Rail corridor typically has a 100-foot dedicated right-of-way.
The rails and ties were removed from the corridor in about 2005.
The rail bed is currently uneven and overgrown, and there are three deficient timber bridges along the corridor in McLeod County.
In 2014, the McLeod Rail Authority entered into a lease agreement with the City of Lester Prairie that allowed the city to improve 2 miles of the trail from the county line to the city.
The city solicited a task force of residents, which became the Lester Prairie Trail Committee. The group’s fundraising efforts made it possible to improve the trail to a firm class 5 gravel surface, which eliminated the previous dead end at the county line, and provided access from Lester Prairie.
The draft plan addresses the importance of regional trails. It references a Metropolitan Council report which estimates the Dakota Rail Regional Trail saw 488,000 visits in Hennepin County in 2014. In its second year of operation, the Carver County portion of the trail saw an estimated 113,000 visits.
A 2015 study by the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota estimated the annual use of the Luce Line State Trail in Hutchinson to be approximately 156,000 visits in 2015.
Construction cost estimates in the plan include $560,000 to pave the trail from Carver County to McLeod County Road 1 on the west side of Lester Prairie, and $2,660,997 to pave the trail from McLeod County Road 1 to Hutchinson.
Other costs identified in the plan include corridor preparation and mobilization ($413,385), drainage and structures ($510,880), and restoration ($333,575).
According to McLeod County Parks Administrator Al Koglin, who has worked on the plan for about a year, the costs shown in the plan do not include amenities such as trailhead facilities and parking areas.
The plan suggests that the cities of Lester Prairie and Hutchinson should consider adding features along the trail such as parking, informational signage, benches, tables, bicycle racks, water, and restroom facilities, but these features would have to be funded separately.
The McLeod County Board will discuss the plan during its meeting 9 a.m. Tuesday, May 17 at Lester Prairie City Hall.
A link to the plan can be found by clicking HERE.