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DNR proposal would extend Heartland Trail from PR to Moorhead

Department of Natural Resources officials report plans for the Heartland Trail Extension from Park Rapids to Moorhead are moving forward.

Suzanne Rhees, principal planner for the project, said she's looking to receive approval of the master plan by year's end. "It's a collaborative process," she said of the proposed 85- to 100-mile trail, depending on the routes.

"We're excited about this," DNR regional manager Mike Kovacovich told the 40-plus who arrived to review the plans last week. He acknowledged the plan has been a long time in coming. "But we're committed to moving forward."

The trail would connect the communities of Park Rapids, Wolf Lake, Frazee, Detroit Lakes, Lake Park, Hawley, Glyndon, Dilworth and Moorhead.

The Smoky Hills State Forest, Buffalo River State Park and other natural and recreational resources are within the trail corridor. When complete, the Heartland Trail would extend from Moorhead in Clay County to Cass Lake, in Cass County.

An extension from Park Rapids to Itasca State Park is recommended in the plan.

"This link would encourage bicycle and other non-motorized access to this iconic state park by providing a much safer route than the existing highways," the plan states.

No segments of the proposed trail are in state ownership, as yet. "Planning for a corridor of this length, without substantial state ownership is clearly a long-term endeavor," Rhees stated.

Unlike the Paul Bunyan and Heartland trails, the extension will not be built on existing railroad beds, which cost approximately $50,000 to $75,000 per mile to construct. The cost of this trail is estimated to be at least double the amount.

Tony Walzer, DNR acquisition and development specialist, said corridors as alternatives have been identified. "We have to assemble land for alignment."

He pointed out the Paul Bunyan Trail planning and construction from Brainerd to Bemidji spanned a 20-year period, and that was on railroad grade. "It's more complicated without the base and twice as expensive," he said of constructing a nine-ton road base.

In addition, there are several legislatively authorized trails in Minnesota that will be competing for funding.

The proposed Heartland Extension in Park Rapids will start in Heartland Park, crossing the Fishhook River and extend through Red Bridge Park.

Park Rapids' iconic Red Bridge would have to be replaced, Walzer said. It could be moved, but the current bridge's arch does not meet accessibility standards, nor would it be structurally adequate.

The "potential alignment" for the trail in the master plan calls for exiting Red Bridge Park westbound on Beach Road, making a half-block jog north on Park Avenue, then continuing west on Minnesota Avenue for three blocks, crossing Huntsinger Avenue. It would continue west on an existing snowmobile corridor that runs between Huntsinger and Helton Avenues for a half block, directly behind the Park Rapids DNR offices.

The trail could then proceed west along Highway 34 or turn along Helton Avenue and exit the city in its northwest corner, along 190th Street.

There are also trail connections to the southeast quadrant of the city, Walzer said, but noted, "getting across Highway 34 is the big question."

Criteria identified to guide the location of the trail outside the city include working with landowners to acquire rights of way, minimizing impact on wetlands and trail user exposure to traffic and avoiding significant native plant communities.

Several who arrived expressed a need for dedicated maintenance funds for the trail, arguing new trails should not be constructed when existing trails are in need of upgrades.

Trail passes for all users, including pedestrians and bicyclists, were suggested as a means to fund maintenance.

The master plan can be seen and comments submitted at http://files.dnr. sion.pdf.