11/29/2012 1:30:00 PM County board cautions about Mill Town trail land
by Paul Martin
Goodhue County board tiptoed toward the proposed Mill Town Trail at their November 20 meeting. At issue was whether to approve $254,000 to purchase 26 acres next to the county park on Hwy. 19 west of Cannon Falls. The county has until the end of the year to make a decision.
The Mill Towns Trail is planned to link two existing trails, the Cannon Valley Trail, which runs between Cannon Falls and Red Wing, and the Sakatah Singing Hills Trail, which runs from Faribault to a point seven miles beyond Mankato. A vital link will be a foot and bike bridge across the Cannon River, just below the Lake Byllesby Dam. Planning is ahead of schedule, and funds are in place to build the bridge in 2013.
Land Needed for Best Route
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has negotiated the purchase of a parcel of land needed for this bridge, on the south bank, just east of the county park. 26 acres of this parcel is not needed for the bridge and trail, but the landowner will only sell the whole parcel. The county is being asked to purchase the rest of this land, which could be added to the park.
The DNR is also close to finalizing the purchase of easements needed to carry the trail the rest of the way to US-52. From there, the trail would run close to the river bank under Hwy. 52, and into Cannon Falls via North 9th Street.
Without this parcel, the new trail will have to follow a much less safe and attractive route along the shoulder of Hwy. 19, and then up the west side of Hwy. 52 to rejoin the river bank.
Boost for Tourism in County
Public Works Director Greg Isakson laid out for the board what the land could be used for. Walking trails, a dog park, a RV campground, and rentable cabins, top the list. The RV camp excited commissioners the most, as it bears most promise for bringing in revenue to offset the cost, and the level site is well suited to that use.
Commissioners were enthusiastic about the potential boost for tourism in the county. Commissioners Ron Allen and Jim Bryant noted that the Dakota County Park on the north bank is full over many summer weekends, and agreed with Isakson that working with Dakota County to create a Regional Park "makes a lot of sense," in Bryant's words.
The $254,000 price tag brought caution, however. Allen said he hoped Cannon Falls City would bear some of the cost, as they would get some of the benefit. Administrator Scott Arnesen responded that it is tough to ask anyone else to invest in a county park.
Commissioner Richard Samuelson said, "It will enhance the trail and generate tourism income for the entire county, not just Cannon Falls."
Bryant agreed that many from his side of the county come to the area.
Bryant spoke for all in saying, "I am cautious about committing to this purchase before we know the easements are really in place to carry the trail along the river."
Isakson said he has asked the DNR for confirmation of that, but is waiting for an answer. The board agreed to defer a decision until the next meeting, by which time they hope to have heard from the DNR.
Progress Varied on Trail
For the Mill Towns Trail, Peggy Prowe summarized progress on the rest of the trail route. A three-mile section through Dundas has been in use for some years, and links with a city trail through Northfield. At the west end, recently completed road improvements in Faribault have included building the trail through town from the start of the Sakatah Singing Hills trail.
This leaves two long sections. The 6.5 mile section from Dundas to Faribault is in the final stages of land acquisition, and should be built in the next five years. More of a challenge is the section from Dakota County Park to Waterford, north of Northfield. The best option is to follow the railroad's right of way through Randolph, but Progressive Rail has not responded to requests to negotiate this route.
You can learn more at the Mill Towns Trail website, http://www.milltownstrail.org.