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DNR hosts Heartland Trail extension planning session in Detroit Lakes

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With several options to look at, the Heartland Trail connection from Park Rapids to Moorhead is a "blank canvas" at this point.

Those are the words of Tim Browning, Department of Natural Resources Trails and Waterways Division regional manager.

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Browning, John Stewart and Laurie Young held the first of a series of open houses in Detroit Lakes Thursday evening. Others, including one in Park Rapids from 5 to 7 p.m. p.m. Wednesday, July 9 at the Northwoods Bank community room will seek input and suggestions on routes for the trail.

Young has already been meeting with city, county and community leaders, asking about certain areas that should be featured along the trail.

"It's essential to the success of the project," she said of talking to community members. She has also talked with representatives of the Lake Country Scenic Byway and others in the Fargo-Moorhead area. She intends to speak with snowmobilers and other trail users as well.

"There is a lot of interest and support for the trail," Young said. "They'd like to see it happen for a variety of reasons." Those reasons include recreation for community members and a draw to bring tourists.

With a total of $1.75 million in 2006 and 2008 bonding money, Browning said it is a "long way from the total cost (of building the trails), but it'll get us started."

That money will pay for initial engineering, feasibility, etc. staging of the trail and help the DNR "get our ducks in a row," Browning continued.

Although some segments of the trail seem more logical and feasible, Browning said the state will not start building the trail without a full plan of how the sections will tie together or without money in hand. That money will likely come from state bonding and federal enhancement dollars.

"Interest is increasing," Browning said of public awareness. "We're getting an idea of what the public wants."

One group in complete support of the proposed trail expansion is the Lakes Area Bike Club. Member Kim Karjala, Perham, said she is in favor of the trail, but would like to see it routed somewhere other than only along Highway 34 from Park Rapids to Detroit Lakes, one of the proposed trail routes.

"Not just along 34, but a little bit of a differentiation, with access into the smaller towns," she said, adding there's so much beautiful land to show off.

Browning said the purpose of the meetings is to get other ideas, not just the DNR's.

Young agreed that there have "absolutely" been new ideas for routes the DNR hadn't even thought of originally.

"It's a lot of fun to learn about the wonderful amenities this area has to offer," she said.

After the public meetings, Young will take the data and suggestions back to her office and work up a master plan, the next step in the process.

"The master plan is for the trail to direct how we develop it, where we develop it," Browning said. "Our goal is to nail the alignment down and craft a master plan by this fall."

In addition to the upcoming open house in Park Rapids, remaining sessions for community members to give input on the trail include one at Wolf Lake tonight (Wednesday) at the Wolf Lake Lions Hall and another in Moorhead July 8 at the Hjemkomst Center.

Additional questions and comments may be directed to Young, planning supervisor, Box 52, 500 Lafayette Rd., St. Paul MN 55155, 651-259-5638 or laurie.young@dnr.state.mn.us.

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