It was a complete surprise on Oct. 15 when State Senator Paul Utke (R-Park Rapids) texted, “Your project for phase one of the trail starting at Itasca State Park is in the final bonding bill. Good luck, and let the project begin!” He was the sponsoring senator for the first phase of a connecting state paved multi-use trail between Itasca State Park and the Heartland State Trail. The first phase includes a tunnel under U.S. Hwy. 71 to enter the park, and the DNR is projecting construction of it could begin in the fall of 2022.

I remember an 11th grade government class field trip to a county commissioner meeting in 1977 with a discussion on a bike trail to the park on the agenda. The connection trail committee has been meeting for over a decade, and all members are amazed on the trail’s sudden progress. There is now anticipation. Residents are hearing from friends and relatives from Fargo-Moorhead or the Twin Cities how excited they are about the trail. Butch De La Hunt, president/CEO of the Park Rapids Area Lakes Chamber of Commerce, says the trail will be a huge economic boom to the county.

The bonding bill received bipartisan sponsorship with former State Representative John Persell (DFL-Bemidji) sponsoring the bill in the House.

Sen. Utke said he bought a bike last summer when he rode the Heartland Trail for the first time.

Thank you very much, Sen. Utke, for your support of the trail and wishing you fun cycling as you explore more of the trail.