Tunnel construction bids for the Itasca-Heartland Connection Trail have been requested, received and reviewed.

Kent Skaar, senior project manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Parks and Trails Division, anticipated a bid would be awarded this week. He spoke Monday, April 19 with the citizen-led committee that has championed building the multi-purpose, paved trail between Itasca State Park and the Heartland Trail.

Last fall, the Minnesota Legislature included $2 million in its bonding bill for the trail spur. Another $1.8 million will be provided by the DNR.

Related story:

Itasca-Heartland Connection Trail receives $2M in bonding

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Skaar said the winning contractor will be responsible for the preliminary and final design of the tunnel, construction administration and identifying all permitting and wetland components.

“Current schedule would have design this year, construction next year,” he said.

When work on the tunnel begins in 2022, there will be a detour on Hwy. 71.

“It will be relatively short. It’s probably going to be a two, maybe three-window,” Skaar said.

He noted the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is supportive of the project. MnDOT conducted a soil evaluation of the site and found no issues.

The DNR will construct a 1.75-mile trail from the Itasca State Park contact station to U.S. Hwy. 71. Throughout this summer, engineers from the Bemidji DNR office will complete required natural resource and cultural reviews.

The county will establish a preliminary trail on tax-forfeited land east of the tunnel to an established snowmobile trail.

When funds are available, the second phase of trail construction will continue 13 miles east to Emmaville on county land. The third phase will go south eight miles from Emmaville on a county road right-of-way to the intersection with the Heartland Trail.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources staff has drawn up a preliminary engineering plan for the proposed 17-mile trail from the Itasca State Park contact station to Emmaville.
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources staff has drawn up a preliminary engineering plan for the proposed 17-mile trail from the Itasca State Park contact station to Emmaville.Courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Hubbard County Land Commissioner Chip Lohmeier reported that he found an abandoned, uncapped well on the 5.4-acre parcel west of County 4 and north of the Heartland Trail. The county purchased the land to establish a new trailhead access.

“We’ll have to get that sealed and capped before anything else can get done,” Lohmeier said, adding there may be an undocumented septic system as well.

He is seeking quotes for leveling a small parking area and adding gravel, signage and a path to the Heartland Trail.

Lohmeier anticipates the new trailhead will open this summer.