Heartland Trail meeting discusses proposed expansion
BY: NICK LONGWORTH
On Wednesday, Oct. 2 Department of Natural Resource (DNR) officials and locals alike descended upon the Northwoods Bank Community Room to discuss proposed changes to the revered Heartland Trail.
The proposed expansion of the Heartland Trail is known as the “Heartland Spur,” not to be confused with the similarly named “Heartland extension” project
Approved in 2006, the Heartland extension project will increase the Heartland Trail from Park Rapids to Moorhead and is still currently under development.
The Heartland Spur, however, once completed, will extend the Heartland Trail by 20-25 miles depending on the specific alignment chosen. These extensions will be done in two segments, from Park Rapids to Emmaville and then again from Emmaville to Itasca State Park.The open house was available for any public members looking to provide input on the trail or have questions answered about the ongoing trail expansion.DNR officials on hand to listen and answer questions included David Shotzko (Area Supervisor of Parks and Trails Division), Tony Walzer (Acquisition and Development Specialist), Colin Kelly (Principal Planner) and Robert Chance (Park Manager).The proposed trail will be a paved surface, allowing for bicycling, in-line skating, hiking, walking and snowmobiling (where appropriate).The Heartland Spur will aim to increase connectivity between a wealth of state and national recreational ures.Once complete, it will be a distinctive addition to the state trail network in the Park Rapids Lakes Area, connecting the Heartland and Paul Bunyan state trails to Minnesota’s first state park and Mississippi River Trail.Ideally, the trail will enhance opportunities for the appreciation and enjoyment of high-quality landscapes including aspen-birch forests, rare virgin pine forests and the headwaters of the Mississippi River. It will also look to increase tourism in the area.“We’re still real early in the planning stages, but we have begun to move quite fast within the last year. This is a very active group and Itasca State Park is a very high-profile destination,” David Shotzko said.“(The Heartland Spur project has) really taken off with extreme momentum, because Itasca State Park is one of our crown jewels within the state park system. Everyone loves Itasca. It’s a beautiful park. People will be able to go from Bemidji, Cass Lake, even Brainerd and hook up with our trails and travel all the way to Itasca,” said Shotzko.Shotzko and his partners see value in the input given and concerns expressed by public, especially from those that the Heartland Spur would be affecting.Meetings such as these, he says, “provide the perfect forum for just that.”We’re trying to open (discussion of the expansion) up to the public. We have our ideas and visions, what direction we’d like to see it go. But if you can get people who have lived here their entire life, along with other locals, all these heads put together are better than just a couple of us, or a small little group. We’re looking for input,” said Shotzko.The meeting was attended by 20-30 community members, all of which had the opportunity to ask questions and voice concerns. For those not looking to speak up onsite, there was a suggestion box where people could either leave an anonymous comment or provide contact information to receive a follow-up.“We will hopefully get tons of input (at the meeting) that we wouldn’t get by just dealing internally and with local governments,” said Shotzko. “There’s no substitute for local knowledge.”Local residents Guy and Cathy Reich attended the meeting looking to further understand the proposed project.“I am interested in the project. I would use it and I think it’s good for economic development. I came here just to try and learn a little bit more,” Guy Reich said.“I think it’d be a great asset for the community and it’d bring more people to Park Rapids,” Cathy Reich said.No further public meetings are planned at this time.Those looking for more information or to voice comments or concerns are encouraged to contact the Department of Natural Resources Acquisitions and Development Specialist Tony Walzer at 218-308-2379 or Anthony.Walzer@ state.mn.us.