State Senator Rod Skoe (DFL-District 2) met with various community organizations Wednesday.

A citizen-led task force discussed a $350,000 state bonding request for an extension connecting the Heartland State Trail with Itasca State Park.

The proposed trail would send bikers, hikers and snowmobilers on a 23-mile jaunt from CSAH 4, just east of Park Rapids, to Itasca State Park. It diverts outdoor enthusiasts from U.S. Highway 71, where safety is a concern due to high traffic and a narrow shoulder with rumble strips.

“The biggest plus is this goes on public land almost the whole way,” task force member Deane Johnson told Skoe, presenting him with a map of the suggested route.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has placed the Heartland Spur Trail on its high priority list, said Tim Williamson, acquisitions and development, from the DNR Park & Trails regional office in Bemidji.

“This group has done a yeoman’s effort. What you see here is a preferred route,” Williamson said. “We’re in a logical step. This group has done a lot of work we would’ve hired someone to do. They eliminated a huge portion of the cost.”

The task force applied for bonding for a pre-engineering study two years ago, Johnson explained, but didn’t receive the money so citizens completed the work themselves.

The route was chosen based on slope, wetlands, public and private land, scenic value, multiple uses and other factors.

An engineering design study, at a cost of $250,000, is needed to confirm the preferred route before construction costs can be determined and sought.

Another $100,000 is requested for a pending land purchase. The five-acre parcel is earmarked for a parking lot near the trailhead at CSAH 4 where the existing Heartland Trail and proposed spur would intersect.

“How long before construction?” asked Skoe.

Williamson estimated that, if bonding is received in 2017, construction could begin in 2020.

The DNR also considers the Heartland spur a “destination trail,” meaning it should receive the highest level of investment and use.

“The spur to Itasca is the only destination trail that’s not built,” said Nicole Lalum, executive director of the Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. The trail would have a positive economic impact on the Park Rapids community, she added.

The spur would complete a circular route with the Paul Bunyan and Mi-Gi-Zi trails, totaling over 200 miles, along with the Mississippi River Trail that goes to the Gulf Coast. It ties the tourism areas of Park Rapids, Itasca State Park, Bemidji, Cass Lake and Walker.

“It’s a service for the people at the park. I get that,” Skoe said.

Hunting and logging wouldn’t be negatively impacted by the trail, Williamson said. “People can hunt and log one step off the trail.”

“We shifted the trail to encroach the least on existing hunting trails,” Johnson said. The route would include a 16-mile segment through undeveloped public forestland and another 8-mile segment along the county highway right-of-way.

Skoe urged the group to work with supporters of the Frazee-Detroit Lakes Heartland State Trail extension.

“I would sure like to expedite this,” he said.