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Local officials make pitch for trail bonding money

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outdoors Park Rapids, 56470
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

By Pippi Mayfield / DL Online - Most people in this area have biked, walked, snowmobiled or at least heard of the Heartland Trail.

There are health and recreational benefits far and wide, but a group from Frazee and Detroit Lakes are trying to get across to state senators and representatives that it’s so much more than that.

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“Look at Dorset,” Bruce Imholte said. “What would be there if there wasn’t a trail?”

The Heartland Trail stretches 49 miles from Cass Lake to Park Rapids. Plans call for it to extend west all the way to Moorhead.

Several entities — including the cities of Frazee and Detroit Lakes, Becker County, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Department of Natural Resources — have been working hard the last couple of years to get a new segment built from Frazee to Detroit Lakes.

It would eventually connect to the Park Rapids end of the trail and on to Moorhead.

A group of eight to 10 people meet every couple weeks to see what more they can do to get support behind the Heartland Trail project.

That includes encouraging letters of support to legislators, testifying before Minnesota House and Senate bonding committees and simply getting the word out about the trail and its benefit to the area.

Testifying at the Capitol

For the last two years, Frazee and Detroit Lakes have invested money in hiring Flaherty and Hood to lobby for the Heartland Trail between the two cities. Elizabeth Wefel has been helping keep a presence at the state capitol and helping the group with testifying before the bonding committees.

“As far as the House meeting goes, I think it went really well,” she said Thursday during a conference call with the group.

While before the House bonding committee, Chamber Tourism Director Cleone Stewart, Detroit Lakes Mayor Matt Brenk, Frazee Mayor Hank Ludtke and Frazee City Administrator Jonathan Smith spoke about not just the tourism impact the trail would have on the area, but also on the economic impact.

Former Becker County commissioner Gerry Schram also attended the hearing to lend support. He was active in the Heartland Trail effort when he was on the county board.

The cities are asking for $3 million in the bonding bill to be dedicated to constructing the Heartland Trail. That would also include a trailhead on Acorn Lake.

The state has already allocated $2.5 million for the project, which has paid for design of the trail on the north side of Highway 10 and a tunnel under Highway 10 just east of Detroit Lakes to connect the trail to Detroit Lake and the city’s existing trail system.

Detroit Lakes and Frazee have also invested money in land acquisition and the piece of land on Acorn Lake that will be used as a trailhead. After the cities purchased the land from a private landowner, they sold it to the Department of Natural Resources for the appraised value.

The project is “shovel ready,” meaning all of the land is in place and the design is ready as well.

“If they’re committing money to the tunnel, why wouldn’t you finish it,” Imholte questioned of the state. 

Benefits of the trail

While the recreational benefits of a multi-use trail may seem fairly clear, it’s the economic benefits that have Frazee and Detroit Lakes pushing even harder for the connection.

“First, this trail will bring jobs and long-term economic development benefits to the local communities and the region, which helps the state economy,” Brenk said at the hearing last week.

“In Detroit Lakes, we get a lot of tourists from North Dakota who use our lakes and other amenities,” Stewart said. “They visit Frazee for kayaking and hiking. There’s an untapped market for bike trail users. If you build us this trail, we can bring in more tourist dollars from North Dakota.”

Another benefit of the trail is the ability to bring workers to the area and retain them. Stewart spoke about how employees want to move to areas with amenities like multi-use trails.

Ludtke spoke about how this isn’t just a state trail, but the cities and the county have also fully embraced supporting the trail and have invested financially and with land. The county donated one mile of land to the trail between the two cities.

“You all deserve a pat on the back for what you did,” Wefel said Thursday to those who testified.

More city, county and chamber representatives are planning to testify before the Senate bonding committee later this week.

“People think of it as nice to have but not as infrastructure and important,” Wefel said. “But, in the 21st century, they (trails) are a part of thriving communities.”

Getting more support

Whether a bonding bill will pass or not, or how much it will provide, is still up in the air at this point. But, this group wants to make sure that if there is a bonding bill, outstate Minnesota is included in it. A large portion of the parks and trails bonding, if not all, could go to metro projects, and they want to ensure greater Minnesota gets its fair share.

Imholte said the group also meets with the towns west of Detroit Lakes to Moorhead and have gotten a letter of support signed by their representatives as well.

Once the the Detroit Lakes-Frazee section is built, it will be only a matter of time before trail construction continues west to Audubon, Lake Park and other communities between Detroit Lakes and Moorhead

Wefel and the local group are asking the public to write letters of support for the Heartland Trail section between Frazee and Detroit Lakes. Stewart said to contact her at the Chamber of Commerce for more information.

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