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Wright County News

Posted on: January 27, 2020

Wright County Looking to Connect Two of the State's Largest Bike Trail Systems

For more than a decade, the State of Minnesota has prioritized enhancing bike trail systems that can connect large segments of the state. That commitment included Minnesota residents voting to approve a half-cent sales tax in 2008 to create Legacy funding as an attempt to improve water quality, create better parks and trails and to sustain our arts and cultural heritage

However, when it came to trail connections for long state trails like the Luce Line and Wobegon Trails, they came to a stop when they neared Wright County.

That is likely to end in the coming years. In 2017, Wright, Hennepin and Carver counties came together for a joint venture (The Crow River Regional Trail) with the goal of connecting the Luce Line Trail to the West Mississippi Trail in Dayton. Three years later, the Wright County Board of Commissioners approved a second master plan (The Great River Regional Trail), which is slated to run from Dayton through the cities of Otsego and Monticello end in Clearwater.

While both plans are subject to long-term funding largely through Legacy grants when they become available, Parks & Recreation Director Marc Mattice said the Crow River Regional Trail got its first funding for a segment that will be completed next year.

“We did the Crow River Regional Trail with our partners and adopted that plan (in 2017),” Mattice said. “We were notified that we received a Legacy grant for Phase One of the Crow River Regional Trail. In 2021, the portion from Delano south to Baker Park Reserve (in Independence) will be getting implemented. So far, the plan is working.”

The idea of the Great River Regional Trail came about as a way to connect the county to another long trail line. While Mattice and his office were instrumental to moving the plan forward, he said it wouldn’t have been possible without the cities and townships along the proposed trail line endorsing the process.

“The Great River Regional Trail is a regional trail that goes from where the Crow River Regional Trail ends in Dayton out to Clearwater, which will hook into the Lake Wobegon/Beaver Island Trail at some future point. That’s the plan. The cities of Otsego, Monticello and Clearwater and the townships (on the proposed route) were invited to the planning meetings. This started last summer. The Parks Commission tabled it at its December meeting so they could review it, ask for more details and ask questions. This is how we came to the final plan.”

It was pointed out that the master plan is not a blueprint. It is a living document that can be adapted and changed over time. Wright County Commissioner Darek Vetsch said people who see the master plan and the proposed route should be aware that it will be subject to change throughout the process and it could be 10 to 20 years before the plan is fully implemented and completed.

“This is still conceptual,” Vetsch asked. “We’re still working with landowners. (The proposed path of the trail) isn’t a hard-and-fast line. It may be showing it as going through someone’s backyard, but this is still conceptual with wide lines that we can play with. I want people to understand that this a decade or two-decade process. It is likely going to be different than what is on the map. If you live up in Clearwater, but the time that portion gets done, the trail could a mile away from where it shows now.”

Mattice said both the Crow River Regional Trail and Great River Regional Trail master plans were in the works years before they were brought forward for approval. The goal was to connect Wright County to existing trail systems because both the Luce Line Trail and the Wobegon Trail systems came close to Wright County, but came to an abrupt stop when they got near the county line.

“Two of the longest trails in the state are the Luce Line Trail and the Lake Wobegon/Beaver Island Trail,” Mattice said. “If you look at a map you see the different places where, if a trail system is there, there is the ability to hook them together. Wright County is one of those gaps. If we can end up getting grant funding to do it, the combination of the Crow River Regional Trail and the Great River Regional Trail would be the connector point to put them both together.”

The Luce Line Trail stretches 63 miles from the Cosmos to Plymouth. The Wobegon trail runs 65 miles. It starts in Osakis, runs to Albany and splits into two forks – one veering north to Royalton and one continuing east to St. Cloud. The Beaver Island Trail runs from St. Cloud to near Clearwater and would be a connector point for a statewide trail system that would extend from Lake Itasca to near the Minnesota-Iowa border

Finishing off the connections to other trails will take time – it took three years to get funding for the first phase of the Crow River Regional Trail and Mattice said he won’t be surprised if the two plans alternate funding cycles to finish the trail one phase at a time over the course of several years.

The projects will be dependent on grant funding, which is never a guarantee since there are numerous other worthwhile projects competing for the same dollars. But, as it written, the law that provides Legacy funding will maintain the half-cent sales tax until 2034. In that time, the hope is that both trails will qualify for funding, because Legacy grants will be the life blood of getting both projects completed.

“The goal is for this to be 80 percent grant funded,” Vetsch said. “I think we can all relatively agree that in order for this to happen in any kind of timely fashion, we’re going to be working on that goal. The more local funding that it takes to make this happen, the longer the timeline is going to be.”

It may take 20 years for the plans that have been laid out to be completed, but, when they are finished, Wright County residents will have the ability to travel long distances by bike. Access to bike trails systems has long been identified as a priority for Wright County residents and having established, extended trail systems to utilize will make it even more of a destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

“When those all get done, they’re going to be great,” Wright County Commissioner Mike Potter said. “I see people on bikes in different parts of the county all the time. It will take a while to get there, but it will be nice when it’s all said and done.”

Note: To see the full Great River Regional Trail master plan, click on this link: http://www.co.wright.mn.us/DocumentCenter/View/18439/GRRT-Master-Plan-Draft

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