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Heartland Trail extension may run from Frazee to DL

Although the Heartland Trail extensions are still in the land acquisition stage, the Detroit Lakes to Frazee extension is likely the next step. DNR trail officials say it has progressed the furthest in the planning. (Submitted photo)

It might be easy to dismiss a bicycle trail as a lightweight economic development opportunity, but Guy Fischer, housing and economic development coordinator for Becker County, says to think again.

An extension to the Heartland Trail from Park Rapids to Moorhead could bring $1 million a year in economic impact to communities like Detroit Lakes, Frazee, Audubon, and Lake Park -- through good old-fashioned pedal-power.

A similar trail has been worth $1-$5 million annually to a rural town of 1,800 elsewhere in Minnesota, he said.

The first stage of the new trail could well be from Frazee to Detroit Lakes. That 7.5-mile stretch would have "trail heads" or areas with parking and other amenities, in both Frazee and Detroit Lakes.

The trail would swing by the deep coolness of Acorn Lake and include portions of the old, roped-off Highway 10, which runs though a scenic area with a secluded feel, Fisher said. "There are lady's slippers there," he said, adding, "You can't even hear the traffic on Highway 10."

Potential routes are being mapped out by locals working with the DNR.

The agency doesn't dictate the trail's course. Instead, it works with locals along the way who know the area and what their communities hope to get out of the trail.

The trail is a work in progress and alternative routes are always an option if problems arise.

At Country Inn & Suites in Detroit Lakes, the trail would need to switch from the north side of Highway 10 to the south side. A box culvert would run under Highway 10 and come out on East Shore Drive.

As envisioned, the Heartland trail extension will run from Park Rapids to Osage, to Wolf Lake, about 8 miles to the Toad Lake store, then 15 miles through Amish country in the vicinity of County Road 39 to Frazee.

Locals are scouting out three possible routes through or around the Smokey Hills State Forest, hoping to let bicyclists enjoy the forest, but because of Americans with Disabilities Act restrictions that include limiting the trail to a 5 percent grade, the course may skirt the edge of the Smokey Hills.

At a meeting last week in Detroit Lakes, Frazee City Clerk Jonathan Smith said he recently spoke to leaders of the Amish community, who were apprehensive about the trail because of rumors they'd heard, but grew interested as he explained the facts of the trail.

They'd like to be able to use their horses and buggies on or near the trail, in particular to stay off Highway 87, which they find dangerous.

That option is being explored, Smith said.

Frazee Mayor Hank Ludtke has been heavily involved in scouting locations for the trail, as has Fischer and - in the Audubon and Lake Park areas - Audubon City Councilman Jeff Quam.

The most likely route from Park Rapids to Osage is down the south side of Highway 34.

"There's an old dam, control structure, the trail could go right over the top of it into Osage," Ludtke said.

Three routes are being considered from Osage to Wolf Lake.

"Smoky Hills is really the amenity there," Fischer said. The group is exploring the possibility of using existing forest trails, he added.

At Wolf Lake, the idea of the trail "has been fairly well accepted by the Finnish community there," Ludtke said. Thanks to city parks and other amenities in the area, "There's plenty of room for people to camp and re-supply," he said.

The city of Detroit Lakes is excited about the trail system and eager to incorporate it into the city's existing system, said Public Works Director Brad Green. The city has been incorporating trail easements into new building permits to pave the way for the trail, he said.

The city is concerned about snowmobiles crossing Highway 10, and a new underpass culvert as part of the trail system would solve that problem in the wintertime.

Snowmobiles are allowed on the existing Heartland Trail, with some exceptions for studded tracks.

The possible route from Detroit Lakes to Audubon would follow existing right-of-way, but largely avoid Highway 10, Fischer said.

"It zigs, zags and follows county and township roads (Wine Lake Road, the so-called old dump road, and others) that are surprisingly scenic, Fischer said.

The route from Audubon to Lake Park is a work in progress, but would include looping around County Road 9 at LaBelle Lake.

Fischer said the trails group plans to make a presentation to a legislative bonding committee when it comes to Detroit Lakes at the end of this month.

The Legislature has so far committed $1.5 million towards the trail project, which is projected to cost about $20 million all together.

Nathan Bowe is a staff writer at the Becker County Record and the Tribune. He can be reached at