It’s been a long, hard road, but the first stretch of Heartland Trail in Becker County is now open.

The paved multipurpose trail runs roughly parallel to Highway 10 between Detroit Lakes and Acorn Lake near Frazee. And that’s just the beginning.

Local officials are asking for another $2.2 million in state bonding money, including $500,000 to carry the trail from Acorn Lake, across a new bike bridge over County Road 10, and along the Highway 10 right-of-way to Highway 87.

Reed Reller, left, Calob Inwards and Alaina Driscoll bike on the Heartland Trail near Detroit Lakes on Saturday, June 19, 2021. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)
Reed Reller, left, Calob Inwards and Alaina Driscoll bike on the Heartland Trail near Detroit Lakes on Saturday, June 19, 2021. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)

“I was so excited that the Heartland trail is continuing the expansion,” said Moorhead resident and Frazee native Janelle (LaCoursiere) Brandon. On Saturday, she was biking the newly-opened segment of trail from Detroit Lakes to Acorn Lake, just to check it out, and she said the local tourism economy will benefit from an expanded Heartland Trail system.

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“We (she and husband Lukas) drive to Park Rapids and bike from there to Walker,” on the existing Heartland Trail, she said. “We stay at a hotel overnight in Walker, then bike back to Park Rapids.”

One of the more scenic stretches of the Heartland Trail skirts the edge of Acorn Lake near Frazee. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune. June 19, 2021 photo)
One of the more scenic stretches of the Heartland Trail skirts the edge of Acorn Lake near Frazee. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune. June 19, 2021 photo)

An avid biker, she has competed in the Young Life Triathlon in Detroit Lakes several times, she said, and when the Heartland Trail stretches from Moorhead to Park Rapids and beyond, it’s going to generate a lot of excitement and tourist dollars from bicyclists, she predicted.

Others using the Heartland Trail tunnel under Highway 10, just east of Detroit Lakes, on Saturday included Reed Reller of Detroit Lakes and friends Calob Inwards of Detroit Lakes and Alaina Driscoll of St. Croix Falls, Wis.

They were biking from the Hidden Hills Road into town, and, thanks to connective trail segments now in place, they were able to use the tunnel.

“I like the tunnel, it’s nice not having to cross Highway 10,” Reed said.

“I definitely know it’s nice,” added Driscoll. “Because last year we had to cross the highway.”

That section of trail, from the tunnel to County Road 54 (the Hidden Hills Road) was the most recent one to be completed, said Becker County Commissioner Ben Grimsley, who has been active in the Heartland Trail effort.

A group of motorbikers went down the Heartland Trail and through the tunnel on Saturday, but they weren't supposed to do that -- the trail is for nonmotorized vehicles only, except for snowmobiles in the wintertime, Grimsley said.

One of the more scenic (and expensive) stretches of the new trail is at Acorn Lake. "Acorn Lake has a beautiful overlook," Grimsley said..

The tunnel under Highway 10 near Detroit Lakes has been in place a number of years, but is now connected to the Heartland Trail. On Saturday, June 19, 2021, this motorbike was one a group of four that was driving on the trail for some reason, even though it is intended for bicyclists and pedestrians in the warmer months. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)
The tunnel under Highway 10 near Detroit Lakes has been in place a number of years, but is now connected to the Heartland Trail. On Saturday, June 19, 2021, this motorbike was one a group of four that was driving on the trail for some reason, even though it is intended for bicyclists and pedestrians in the warmer months. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)

Supports for the new trail bridge near Acorn Lake are now in place, and some parts of the bridge itself are expected to arrive in late July or early August, although that depends on the manufacturing process, Grimsley said in an interview.

The new bridge over County Road 10 will carry the trail on over to the Highway 87 project being done this year by MnDOT and the city of Frazee, creating a 10-foot -wide multi-use trail through Frazee city limits. That section is being paid for with about $500,000 from a MnDOT Transportation Alternatives grant, and $100,000 in matching funds from Frazee.

In the future, that Frazee trail will connect with the Heartland Trail heading east toward Wolf Lake, Osage and Park Rapids.

This bonding request is unusual in that Becker County, rather than the DNR, will receive the money and use it to contract-out and oversee trail engineering and construction work, Grimsley said. The DNR is short-staffed on engineers, and has a lot of trail projects on its plate, so giving engineering and constructrion control over to Becker County is expected to speed up the Heartland Trail building process, Grimsley said. "We can get it done a lot quicker," he said. "It's nothing against the DNR, they're just short-staffed."

The supports for the Heartland Trail bridge over Becker County Road 10 are in place near Acorn Lake. (Nathan Bowe, Tribune. June 19, 2021 photo)
The supports for the Heartland Trail bridge over Becker County Road 10 are in place near Acorn Lake. (Nathan Bowe, Tribune. June 19, 2021 photo)


Moorhead to Hawley

Also part of that $2.2 million state bonding request (for fiscal year 2022) for the Heartland Trail is $750,000 for preliminary engineering, final design, land acquisition and initial construction of a 30-mile segment between Moorhead and Hawley.

The proposed route includes Glyndon, Dilworth, the Buffalo River State Park and the Bluestem Prairie area. Some trail work has been done already, including a mile-long stretch in Glyndon and a trail crossing of Highway 10 in Hawley.

Park Rapids to the Smoky Hills

Another $750,000 of that bonding request would go for preliminary engineering, final design, land acquisition and initial construction for an 11-mile segment between Park Rapids and three miles past Osage, to connect into the Smoky Hills. Most of this segment is expected to be built within the Highway 34 right-of-way.

Osage to Hawley route planning

And finally, trail routes from Osage to Frazee, and from Detroit Lakes to Hawley, would get underway with $200,000 for preliminary engineering, design and alignment selection.

“As part of the master plan to extend the Heartland Trail (90 miles) from Park Rapids to Moorhead, it is important to begin preliminary alignment design between Osage, Wolf Lake and Frazee, and from Detroit Lakes to Hawley,” Becker County Economic Development Coordinator Guy Fischer wrote in a memo to the Minnesota Senate bonding committee.

Part of the bonding request is reimbursement for the previously-built Highway 10 trail underpass in Detroit Lakes, and for the $95,000 difference between what Detroit Lakes and Frazee paid for Acorn Lake property and what the DNR bought it for. The two cities intentionally sold it to the DNR for a lower price to speed up the land acquisition process.

City, county and private dollars also paying for trail

The Heartland Trail is the linchpin of Becker County's master trail plan, Grimsley said. "It's by far the most important piece, and it's nice to see us making some progress on it," he said.

Local government has chipped in all through the process:

  • Becker County has provided for a one-mile corridor segment on county land.
  • Detroit Lakes spent $119,000 for engineering, design and construction of the Highway 10 Scenic Overlook trail, and $13,000 for the Sanford Health Trail Way, which will both be part of the Heartland Trail.
  • Detroit Lakes has also committed to the DNR to spend $392,000 for the trail segment that includes Corbett Road to McKinley Avenue.
  • Sanford Health spent nearly $27,000 on the Sanford Health Trail Way, and Essentia Health spent $124,000 on a trailway connecting its campuses to the Heartland Trail.

The finished trail will connect the nearly 250,000 people living in the Fargo-Moorhead area to Minnesota lakes country, and provide a “continuous, uninterrupted 175-mile recreational trail corridor extending from Moorhead to Walker,” Fischer said.

The state has spent just under $10 million on the Heartland Trail extension since 2006.

Project sponsors in the bonding bill request are Becker, Clay and Hubbard counties and the cities of Detroit Lakes, Frazee, Osage, Park Rapids, Moorhead, Glyndon and Hawley.

"Becker County has always been involved," Grimsley said, and he thanked the Heartland Trail Committee "for all their preserverence, especially (former Detroit Lakes Alderman) Bruce Imholte, (former Frazee Mayor) Hank Ludtke and Cleone Stewart of the (Detroit Lakes) Chamber of Commerce."