Parks & Trails Council’s support for a new MN River Bottoms trail: my meeting with Executive Director Brett Feldman

Brett Feldman, Griff WigleyI first met Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota Executive Director Brett Feldman back in March at their legislative ‘Day on the Hill’. We subsequently had lunch here in Northfield where we talked about the City’s bicycling issues/opportunities.

So when I saw the article in their Spring 2013 issue of Minnesota Trails magazine about The Friends of the Minnesota Valley’s Trail Advocacy Group that’s lobbying for either a paved or ‘improved surface’ trail in the River Bottoms (see my blog post for the full text of the article), I knew I needed to meet with Brett to learn more.  We met in his office at the Council’s Lowertown HQ last Thursday.

Brett was clear: the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota is backing the creation of a new paved (yes, paved) trail through the Bloomington segment, approximately 13 miles. His points, included some made in the article:

  • article - A Rally to the Finish LineMany thousands of residents who live in nearby Bloomington and adjacent suburbs would have easy access to the trail
  • Trailheads are/would be near the light rail stations, making the trail more accessible to a larger number of metro-area residents
  • The 2013 MN Legislature has presented the City of Bloomington with both a carrot and stick to reopen the old Cedar Avenue Bridge by the spring of 2016 (see the May StarTribune article, Mall of America expansion funding has $9 million bridge to cross). This will make the new trail much more accessible to thousands of people in Dakota County.
  • Nearly all the land is publicly owned so the acquisition cost normally associated with a new trail is moot
  • A paved trail through a metro-area wildlife refuge would be a tremendous benefit for handicapped people in wheelchairs

Brett believes there’s room for two trails (paved and natural surface/mountain bike) as does the DNR apparently.  But it’s not yet clear where the US Fish and Wildlife Service stands on this issue. The MN Valley Wildlife Refuge has a new director, Tim Bodeen, who started a couple weeks ago.

Brett acknowledged that the cost for ongoing maintenance of a paved trail through miles of an area that frequently floods is a significant problem, one faced by no other DNR trail in the state. As I’ve blogged (here and here), when the Minnesota River floods, it deposits large amounts of silt/sand/muck. When it dries, we mountain bikers just ride on top of it. While the DNR can bond for repair of trails damaged by catastrophic flooding (recent examples: Root River, Willard Munger) as well as their replacement after 20 years of wear and tear, bonding money isn’t used for ongoing maintenance. If a paved trail is approved for the MN River Bottoms, it’ll require a major MOU with some entity (City of Bloomington?) for the maintenance.

Lastly, Brett explained that getting the new trail funded (no sure thing) doesn’t mean that it’ll get built. It’ll just start the process. As I blogged, the DNR has included the trail in its list of those to be supported by its trails-related $10 million preliminary 2014 bonding request (see pages 17-18 of this PDF).

But:

  • We won’t know till next spring whether that’s approved by the legislature and signed by Gov. Dayton
  • If the money’s approved, an extensive public planning process for the trail would then begin. MORC and various other stakeholder groups (eg, Upper Midwest Trail Runners, Twin Cities’ Volkssport, Thoreau Society, etc.) would all have a ‘seat at the table.’
  • The planning process could ultimately culminate with a result that a new paved trail is neither practical, affordable, or acceptable to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. In which case, the bond money will simply shift to acquisition/development of other trails.

My take:

While it’s not too early for MORC to ‘get in the game’ by developing relationships with key people/organizations, it seems too early to rally the troops for broader advocacy efforts like letter-writing and organized lobbying of legislators.  That’s a decision for the MORC Board, of course.

I think we can safely assume that Brett and the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota will take MORC’s mountain biking-related concerns seriously and work to find a way to accommodate mountain biking along the MN River Bottoms. The Council was an early supporter in the creation of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails (CLMTBT) and Brett knows the important role MORC played in its development.

The success of Cuyuna has far-reaching positive implications for mountain biking’s future development in Minnesota, especially on state-owned land. We’ll need to continue partnering with the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota to help it happen, so we best treat them as a partner, even if we sometimes disagree.

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