Dakota Rail Trail photo

Vegetation has grown in the Dakota Rail Regional Trail corridor, shown here south of Silver Lake, since it was abandoned by the railroad roughly 20 years ago.

McLeod County is moving forward with a request for funds to improve another segment of the Dakota Rail Regional Trail. The issue was discussed among County Board members Tuesday after Hutchinson City Council declined to offer a letter of support.

Funds for the project are being sought from Minnesota’s Legacy Fund, which is comprised of tax dollars earmarked for natural resources, culture, parks and trails. Voters approved the creation of the Legacy Fund in 2008. Lawmakers decide how the money is distributed each session.

A previous grant was used to pave the 2-mile segment of the Dakota Rail Regional Trail from the Carver County line to County Road 1 on the west end of Lester Prairie. The grant was for $647,000 and called for a local $33,000 match. To the east, the trail is paved to downtown Wayzata.

An overgrown 16-mile section ending in Hutchinson remains unpaved and in need of work. McLeod County Public Works director John Brunkhorst described the proposed trail project for 11 miles of that section from County Road 4 to County Road 1 as “basically everything except for paving” at a previous County Board meeting. If the county is offered a grant based on the application, and if it is accepted, work will include drainage repairs, bridge repairs, culvert work and work on the gravel base.

In a letter written to the County Board, Hutchinson City Council Member Steve Cook said he offered a resolution to decline a letter of support because, “I felt that there are questions if there is a commitment to following the master plan that was previously submitted (specifically paving and extending the trail to Hutchinson).” He said withholding a letter didn’t mean the city no longer supported trail development.

He asked the county to instead submit the grant as a “preliminary grant” and ask the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission to review it and give feedback. He said this should be done so future applications have the best chance of success.

County parks superintendent Al Koglin told board members all proposals are preliminary until they’re approved.

“Right now we’re just doing another section of the plan,” he said.

“Also, this would be a good time to ask about the importance of following the master plan that was submitted and what should be done if there are thoughts of deviating from that plan, as well as clarifying the concept of ‘regional development,’” Cook wrote.

Board Chair Joe Nagel said the steps laid out in the county’s grant request do not prohibit further steps in the future, including paving.

Board Member Paul Wright said the current proposal makes the trail safer for users, addresses drainage concerns and respects nearby private property, all while moving the ball forward.

“It does keep our foot in the door,” he said. “It’s an attempt to at least make some progress with the development of the Dakota Trail.”

Wright added that the county should be sure to seek its share of Legacy dollars, as everyone in the state pays into the pot, and he believes it too often favors the metro area.

Lester Prairie did submit a letter of support.

“This is very hard for me,” Nagel said.

He said the townships he represents do not support trail development, and the action from Hutchinson City Council casts more doubt from his point of view.

“I get what they are saying even if I don’t like how they said it,” Nagel said, noting that he had expected to vote against the resolution, but now was not as sure. “It’s not for Hutch. It’s for the whole county.”

Board Member Ron Shimanski said the trail is currently not fit for use and needs substantial work.

“This grant application gets us to where the corridor is a usable surface,” he said, adding that more work, including paving, could come in the future.

Board Member Doug Krueger said that while his constituents aren’t in favor of major trail developments, he has heard from people about how dangerous the Dakota Rail Regional Trail area is, and has heard from landowners about water issues.

“I thought this was a step forward,” he said.

The resolution to seek Legacy funds was passed unanimously.

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