County board considers Heartland Spur plan

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Hubbard County Commissioners heard an update on the proposed Heartland Spur this week, the trail, if funded, sending bikers, hikers and snowmobilers on an approximately 25-mile jaunt from CSAH 4 just east of Park Rapids to Itasca State Park.  The trail corridor is considered a destination trail, Timothy Williamson of the Department of Natural Resources explained. This designation is the “highest level of investment and use.” The master plan gained approval last year.  “We’ve narrowed down options,” he told commissioners, “and we will now narrow down the preferred route.” The goal is for completion of this by late winter for public review.  “This shouldn’t impact the timber industry or hunting,” he said.  Bikers traveling on Highway 71 to Itasca face “a huge safety issue. This will take them off state and county roads.”  

The spur would complete a loop that would travel from the Heartland Trail to the Mississippi River Trail to Bemidji and back to the Heartland, an estimated five- to seven-day journey.  A 2016 legislative bonding request of $350,000 is in the works to fund a land acquisition study and preliminary engineering; $100,000 is earmarked for a parking lot near the trailhead at the CSAH 4 and Heartland Trail intersection.  The pre-engineering study will tell us if it’s doable,” Williamson said. If the project is approved, the next step is asking for bonding funds in 2018 or 2019, which may be distributed in segments. The spur’s actual construction could stretch over a 10-year period.  “We want to focus on what’s possible,” Williamson said. “Essentially, that’s land acquisition.” The spur route would cross “minimal private land. We will look at wetlands.”  

Commissioner Cal Johannsen said loggers are concerned. “They would like to have representation.”  “There’s no membership,” land commissioner Chip Lohmeier said of logger participation in the monthly meetings. “It’s those who are interested.”  “But there aren’t many loggers who can attend a 10 o’clock meeting,” Johannsen remarked of the meetings held the second Monday of the month at the Public Works building. (The meeting is the third Monday in November.)  “There is a lot of money being spent and you’re going through prime hunting land for a handful of people,” commissioner Vern Massie said.  He noted horseback riders pay a fee for riding on the trail; bikers do not.  Lohmeier suggested working with him to define a signed horse trail system, with corrals, water sources and parking areas in the county.  

Discussion ensued on the limited trajectory of shots near the trail during the hunting season.  Dan Stacey questioned if estimated usage numbers have been calculated.  Nothing specific, Williams said, but he noted the Paul Bunyan Trail spur numbers “went through the roof” after completion.  “That’s a big expense for something that’s going nowhere,” Massie said of the spur. “I see ATVs on the trail because we can’t police. Up there it will be even worse.”  “I’ve talked to the Department of Defense about predator drones,” Lohmeier joked.  

Questions on access for First Response vehicles were raised, given the relatively remote corridor.  The trail will be built to withstand emergency vehicles, 10 feet in width, similar to ATV trails, Williamson said.   Bikers traveling from Itasca will see hunting land, working forests, marshes and more. “And the payoff is they can stop in Emmaville,” he said.  Massie expressed support for purchasing property and constructing the trailhead parking area, given the number of cars parked on township road.  “I see it as a positive,” Stacey said of the spur enhancing the area amenities.  Comments and questions on the Heartland Spur may be directed to Tim Williamson – DNR, 3296 State Road NE, Bemidji, MN 56601, by calling 218-308-2369 or timothy.williamson @state.mn.us.