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Bemidji to Brainerd Bike Trail Nears Reality

A paved bicycle trail from Brainerd to Bemidji nears reality, as about 25 riders celebrated Thursday in the fourth annual Paul Bunyan Trail Ride.

"There are some visionary leaders who have worked very hard here to make sure that the Paul Bunyan Trail becomes a reality," said Brett Feldman, communications director of the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota.

"In a couple of years, you'll be able to ride all the way from Crow Wing State Park and Brainerd all the way up to Lake Bemidji State Park and Bemidji -- 110 miles," Feldman said. "That's amazing, and that's the work of communities working together to make sure that trails become a reality."

Feldman accepted for the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota a "Wheels of Progress" award from Bemidji City Councilor Jerry Downs for its effort to lobby for state parks and trails, and especially for state funding for various segments of the Paul Bunyan Trail.

"For us, the Parks & Trails Council, to be able to come up here and be recognized for our role in that is just a great honor," Feldman said of the 3,400-member group.

About 25 riders took to the trail Thursday afternoon, starting at the Bemidji Pioneer and traversing across the state Highway 197 bridge to the south of the newspaper building, and hooking with the Paul Bunyan Trail which most mostly gravel at this point, stopped at Lake Bemidji State Park, returning south to end at the Hampton Inn & Suites.

"You got good firsthand knowledge of what the trail is like now and what the potential of it's going to be in the future," said Bemidji Mayor Richard Lehmann at a post-ride reception at the Hampton Inn.

The City Council purchased land on the southeast side of Lake Bemidji, he said, and is working on putting a paved trail through it. "It is a corridor poised for redevelopment in the very near future," he said of the $14 million land purchase.

Lehmann also lauded the Parks & Trails Council, which prioritizes parks and trails projects in seeking capital bonding money from the Legislature. The Paul Bunyan Trail has ranked high in its recommendations for funding.

"Your organization has been very integral in helping us procure the dollars necessary to complete this trail, as you recognize the importance of it," he told Feldman.

Both Lehmann and Feldman cited Assistant House Majority Leader Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji, for his efforts in St. Paul to gain funding for the trail. Lehmann, Feldman, Moe and Downs took the lead on the trail ride of about 25 bicyclists.

"In only two terms, this man has become one of Minnesota's greatest champions for parks and trails," Feldman said of Moe, who isn't seeking re-election this year. "I know we're going to miss him, but his contributions will be remembered by current and future generations."

The Parks & Trails Council "has a vision for a world-class system of interconnected parks and trails," he added. "Right here in Bemidji you have visionary leaders who are working so hard to make the Paul Bunyan Trail become into Bemidji, but even further, to connect it to a beautiful lake and connect it to your own vibrant system of parks and trails."

The state Department of Natural Resources was hoping to announce work Thursday on another segment of the Paul Bunyan Trail, but a glitch in the bid package will put off bid opening until 2 p.m. Wednesday, said Tony Walzer, DNR Trails and Waterways Division natural resource specialist in Bemidji.

The glitch involved asking for bids on square yardage for shoulder paving, when it should have been cubic yardage, Walzer said. The bid package had already been amended to change the bituminous mix to attempt a lower cost.

Still hoped to pave this fall is a 11.5-mile segment of the Paul Bunyan Trail from Bemidji to Guthrie, Walzer said, from the Highway 197 overpass south of the Pioneer building to Hubbard County Road 16. Funding is coming from the 2004 federal transportation funding bill through its High Priority Project earmark process.

Both U.S. Reps. Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District, and Jim Oberstar, DFL-8th District, were instrumental in securing the funding, Downs said.

The engineer's estimate for the project is $1.25 million, Walzer said.

The trail between Brainerd and Bemidji is located on a former Burlington Northern Railroad grade, which is generally level and wheelchair accessible. Of the total, 74.5 miles of the trial is paved -- 69.5 miles from Baxter to Walker, and five miles from Lake Bemidji State Park to Beltrami County Road 20 across the Mississippi River trestle to Fifth Street and Gould Avenue.

The remaining 35.5 miles is undeveloped with variable surface material ranging from the original railroad ballast to sand, the DNR says.

The 2008 Legislature approved $2 million in capital bonding for the Paul Bunyan Trail, which Walzer said is to complete a connection from Guthrie to state Highway 371.

Members of the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources will be briefed on the Paul Bunyan Trail when they visit Bemidji on Tuesday, Walzer said. They will be told what state money is buying, as much trail work has yet to be done in anticipation of the city's purchase of the southeast shore area.

Thursday's ride was dedicated to Bryce Ronnander, a biking enthusiast who died during the 2007 Paul Bunyan Trail Ride which included Oberstar.