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County looks to move forward on bike trail to Itasca State Park Rapids

The Heartland Trail runs through the heart of Park Rapids. Hubbard County commissioners are exploring whether a trail extension to Itasca State Park should be pursued without state funding or delays. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Hubbard County commissioners gave the thumbs up to moving forward on a bike trail from Park Rapids to Itasca State Park without the state's help.

"We'd been seeking Legislative authority as a state trail," said Hubbard County Land Commissioner Mark Lohmeier.

"The state has 27 unfunded (but planned) state trails ahead of us."

Commissioners reasoned the delay in getting a state partnership and funding would take a decade or so to extend the current Heartland Trail system.

"If we do it as a regional trail system it would go faster," Lohmeier acknowledged. "I'm here looking for direction from you."

The board agreed, but took no formal vote, to have Lohmeier pursue a Legacy grant to defray some of the trail expenses.

Initially estimated at $4 million, the 20-mile trail could cost less, Lohmeier said. That's because much of the route winds through county tax-forfeited land, so Lohmeier estimated there would be no need for the wrangling and costs of obtaining right-of-way. That could cut as much as $1 million from the overall cost, he speculated.

But commissioners are still debating the feasibility of going it alone.

A state trail system would be managed and maintained by the DNR. A regional trail's maintenance would fall squarely on the county.

Commissioners discussed whether it would be feasible to build an unpaved trail next to a bike trail for snowmobiles and ATV traffic, allowing more grant possibilities.

Commissioner Lyle Robinson said the state has capped single Legacy grant amounts to $500,000 maximum, but the Legacy Fund from sales tax revenue is growing beyond projections, so the state may raise the grant limits, he noted.

"It could be a good deal for Hubbard County," commissioner Cal Johannsen said. "But we need to be real cautious with taxpayers."

Commissioners discussed whether a separate grant could cover maintenance costs, or whether a bicycle or snowmobile club might be willing to help.

County Engineer Dave Olsonawski said an asphalt bike trail "should last 10 years" without maintenance.

But commissioners agreed the majority of the maintenance chores would include tree trimming or removal and mowing, not necessarily pavement upkeep.

The county could donate the finished trail to the state to pass on the maintenance costs.

"The state will want the trail," Olsonawski ventured, suggesting a donation wouldn't be necessary.

Extending the Heartland Trail system has been in the works for years, but lawmakers and committees have focused those efforts on completing the Detroit Lakes to Moorhead link before connecting to Itasca.

There have been local safety concerns about getting the heavy summer bike traffic off Highway 71, a major route north to the park.

"This is our one chance," commissioner Kathy Grell said. "We always complain" about partnering with the state on projects.

But commissioners were also reluctant to front the trail costs, only to have the state step in.

Lohmeier said he would report back to the board on whether the trail is feasible in the near future.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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