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Tunnel for Itasca-Heartland Connection Trail likely delayed

Kent Skaar, senior project manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Parks and Trails Division, recently told the citizens-led committee that the DNR intends to get bids for the trail tunnel, but due to shipping delays, construction may be pushed to spring 2023.

I-H fact sheet rev 1-20 pdf.cwk
The 2020 Minnesota Legislature included $2 million in its bonding bill for the trail spur.
Map courtesy of Itasca-Heartland Connection Trail committee
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Tunnel construction under U.S. Hwy. 71 – phase 1 of the Itasca-Heartland Connection Trail – may be delayed.

It took more than a decade to secure funding for constructing the multi-purpose, paved trail between Itasca State Park and the Heartland Trail.

Kent Skaar, senior project manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Parks and Trails Division, recently told the citizens-led committee that the DNR intends to get bids for the trail tunnel, but due to shipping delays, construction may be pushed to spring 2023.

The 2020 Minnesota Legislature included $2 million in its bonding bill for the trail spur.

Eric Haugland reminded the committee that most of that money was earmarked for the tunnel. Previously estimated to cost $926,000, that figure is expected to rise due to inflation.

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“The other concern is a shortage of workers and finding contractors,” Haugland wrote.

The committee requested additional bonding during the 2022 legislative session, but it ended last month without a bonding bill.

State Sen. Paul Utke, who sponsored the Senate bill, told Haugland there might be a special legislative session in June, so there could still be a chance for funding.

If approved, the money could be used for trail construction on the west side of the tunnel and east of the tunnel toward an established snowmobile trail to complete phase 1. If money remains, that could go toward planning for phase 2: a 14-mile trail to Emmaville.

The final phase is building the trail on the Lake George Road right-of-way from Emmaville to the Heartland Trail crossing.

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The proposed route of the Itasca-Heartland Connection Trail passes through this parcel, located northwest of Emmaville in Clay Township.

Shannon Geisen is editor of the Park Rapids Enterprise.
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