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The new Heartland Bridge as envisioned by the DNR

Work on new Heartland Trail bridge begins soon

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By Bob Guelker / For the Enterprise

By Bob Guelker

FOR THE ENTERPRISE

An ambitious project conceived five years ago will bring the Heartland Trail right to the edge of downtown Park Rapids, complete with a new bridge replacing the Red Bridge, and a trailhead parking area for bicyclists, snowmobilers, skaters and walkers. Work is expected to begin on the project as soon as this summer, and no later than the spring of 2014.

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The trailhead parking lot will be at the corner of Beach Road and Washington Avenue, which is behind Pizza Hut, and across Washington Avenue from the Red Bridge Inn. Presently, the Heartland Trail ends at Highway 34 just south of the old railroad trestle, without trailhead parking, although some users do park at Heartland Park, which is northeast of Fish Hook Lake.

Back in 2008, the city undertook formulating a new downtown plan, and also a Parks and Trails Master Plan, which together resulted in proposing realignment of the trail at Heartland Park from the old railroad grade and trestle to the Red Bridge with a trailhead downtown.

With that plan on paper, Park Rapids City Planner Dan Walker came on board. Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Katie Magozzi credits Walker with then “doing the heavy lifting” for the project.

“We began by gathering input from several groups,” Walker said, “including the Heartland Trails Citizens Group, Hubbard County, which owns Heartland Park, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Trails and Waterways, that maintains the Heartland Trail, the Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, and the city of Park Rapids.”

“And, we needed to fund the project,” Walker added. “First of all, the city purchased the property that will be turned into the trailhead parking lot, with dedicated park and building funds.”

Then Walker got busy writing grants. He secured matching grants totaling $137,000 from the Federal Recreational Trail Grant Program and the DNR Local Parks and Trails. Those grants will pay for the total cost of clearing, and construction of the parking lot, plus improving the infrastructure – rebuilding Beach Road and Washington Avenue, plus upgrading the public utilities under those streets.

The biggest cost involves removing the old bridge, building a new one, and aligning the Heartland Trail to the new bridge: $425,000. The entire $425,000 is covered by a grant from the Minnesota Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the state constitution, which voters approved in 2008, raising the state sales tax by three eighths of one percent.

“I can’t state enough how important tourism is to the state as a whole, generating $11 billion a year in business, and for Hubbard County, which will generate $38 million this year,” Magozzi said. “It is a multi-use trail, but Minnesota is the number one bicycling state, both in numbers of people who bicycle and opportunities. Bicycling is one of the fastest growing activities.”

But the trail is not all about tourism, Walker added. He estimates that fully one-third of trail use is by local residents.

“The trail is very important to the health of our communities,” he said.

The Hubbard County groups and the Minnesota DNR are not just resting on their laurels after this collaboration that brings Heartland Trail users right into downtown Park Rapids. In the concept stage, is a brand new trail connecting the Heartland Trail near Park Rapids with Lake Itasca State Park.

The dream is to add another 20-25 miles of beautiful trail, cross-country, through the heart of the Hubbard County. It may take a few years, but don’t be surprised when it happens – just get out and enjoy another reason so many call the Park Rapids Lakes Area home, and so many others visit.

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