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City seeks funding to extend Heartland Trail

The city planning department is seeking federal grant funding to complete the city’s portion of a Heartland Trail extension by 2019, including getting the trail safely across Highway 71.  The city council on Tuesday approved by a vote of 3-1 a request by the planning department to submit a non-binding letter of intent to apply for a Transportation Alternatives Grant program for the extension of the Heartland Trail in Park Rapids.  The proposed project includes a 7,000 foot extension of the Heartland Trail including an upgraded pedestrian crossing on Highway 71.  

Estimated project cost is $527,000 at an 80/20 split, according to information provided by city planner Ryan Mathisrud. The project would consist of 80 percent federal funding, 10 percent DNR funding and 10 percent local match.  If awarded the funds, staff would apply for matching funds through the Minnesota DNR trails to reduce the local match component to 10 percent.  Dick Rutherford, a Park Rapids resident attending the meeting, questioned why the council would seek funding and suggested it was a DNR project and not the city’s responsibility.  Councilman and acting mayor at the meeting Paul Utke questioned where the city would get the 10 percent for the project. Utke voted against issuing the letter of intent, saying the 10 percent is not in the budget and the city has a lot of streets to look at repairing.  Councilman Rod Nordberg made the motion to approve. “I think the trail needs our support,” he said. “The Heartland Trail is an economic mover for us.”  The motion passed and Mathisrud stated if the city is awarded the grant he would work on finding additional funding sources over the next couple years and figure out how to pay the city’s portion.  

State groups are looking to connect the Heartland Trail from Fargo/Moorhead through Detroit Lakes to Park Rapids. Locally, the city developed a trailhead dedicated this spring.  The extension of the trail in Park Rapids, according to the background information provided, would develop a Safe Route to School (SRTS) for the north half of the community; complete the Heartland Trail within the boundary of the community; provide easy access to Red Bridge Park, Heartland Park, community garden, Rotary fitness park, and the proposed Century School Outdoor Classroom; and positive economic impact from tourism generated by the current and future trail extensions.  The planning department stated, “the rise of bike and pedestrian tourism throughout the region has resulted in economic development activity and an impact in Park Rapids, most recently, the acquisition and renovation of a vacant building near the Heartland Trail for the relocation of the local bike shop.”  The letter of intent is part of the grant application process and is non-binding at this point.