ECM Political Editor
Twenty-four bonding requests were on the table at the State Capitol last Thursday before the Environment, Economic Development & Agriculture Division Committee, but none received more visible public support than did the one from the Camp Ripley/Veterans State Trail.
Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, was jubilant in recognizing 12 supporters of the trail. “This is a very exciting time for our trails system,” Rudd told members of the committee.
Ruud is carrying legislation labeled Senate File 774. It requests $2 million in bonding from the state to help complete the multi-use trail located in Morrison, Cass and Crow Wing counties.
Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday unveiled his $750 million bonding package. In this proposal is $24 million to improve roads, bridges, and buildings at state parks and trails, and $4 million for parks and trails.
Following a well-prepared presentation, mostly given by Robert Reinetz, chair of the Camp Ripley/Veterans State Trail Committee, Ruud said the committee appeared to understand the importance of a multi-modal trail. A member of the committee herself, Ruud said many partners have worked on the issues of this trail for some time.
The primary purpose of this trail is to link two major bicycle trail systems, the Paul Bunyan Trail to the Soo Line Trail. Reinetz said the trail also connects the Paul Bunyan, Heartland, Cayuna, Migizi, Central Lakes, Wobegon and Soo Line trails.
If this all happens, Reinetz said the the trail will become the longest paved, off the road bicycle trail in the world. “There’s nothing like it anywhere,” he said. The trail currently includes 285 miles of paved surface. The trail system could grow to 377 miles.
In addition, this trail will be part of the Mississippi River Trail, a designated route from the Mississippi River Headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico. It will put Little Falls at the hub of an interconnected trail system of an estimated 400 miles.
This multi-use trail has wide support and received state trail authorization in 2010. The trail offers different uses on separate paths within the same or on separate alignments. Uses include bicycling, walking and running and in-line skating. Most state trails are also open to snowmobiles.
A planning committee began regular monthly meetings in the fall of 2009, in an effort initiated by the Little Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau. The committee consists of officials from state and local government, the military, local businesses, representative of trail user organizations and private individuals.
Reinetz emphasized that the Central Minnesota area has been depressed in recent years, having some of the highest unemployment areas, and some of the lowest average incomes and being in the lowest five of health rankings in the state.
“The bottom line is we need some help,” Reinetz said. He said agriculture is not doing well in these Central Minnesota communities and industrially, the last paper mill was recently closed. Money invested in this trail project will represent “a huge bang for the buck,” Reinetz said.
“We need a game changer and need to bring in new money and need to bring in new industry,” Reinetz said. Reinetz and trail supporters believe the Camp Ripley/Veterans State Trail will have a very positive economic impact.
Reinetz said he was “on board” with other trail requests made before the committee and said the ends of the trails could be extended to Moorhead, creating a 500-mile continuous loop, perfect for a two-week bicycle vacation. “We will bring people from all over the world,” he predicted.
Reinetz said Camp Ripley and the National Guard are huge supporters of this project. “We wouldn’t have gotten this far without them,” he said. He pointed out that the military camp is agreeing to move a portion of fencing and allow the trail on Camp Ripley land. “It’s gorgeous, virgin land with huge trees,” he said.
A recent study showed that $3.2 billion per year is spent on trail use in Minnesota. Bicycle users are not even a fourth of that number, Reinetz said.”We need to be more inclusive and want to bring in as many trail users as possible,” he said.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has completed a master plan for the finished corridor. The Minnesota Department of Transportation has said this trail is one of the most connecting trails in all of Minnesota, Reinetz said.
Cliff Borgerding, president of the Lake Wobegon Trail Association, said the Camp Ripley trail is another critical piece to connect and add mileage to the Paul Bunyan Trail. He said the Lake Wobegon Trail last summer counted 300,000 users on the trail from April 1 to Oct. 31. Reinetz said the Paul Bunyan Trail has many times the usage of the Lake Wobegon trail.
Dan Vogt, city administrator in Little Falls, said he is a cyclist and uses trails to stay stay fit and to keep his health costs down.
Other supporters in attendance were: Susan Roberts, Randall; Mayor Catherine VanRisseghem of Little Falls; George VanRisseghem, Little Falls; Randy Thoreson, National Park Service; LeeAnn Doucette, Little Falls City Council; Jordi Stay, restaurant owner in Bowlus; Adrian Welle, city administrator for Upsala; Roberta Schneider, member of the Central Minnesota Bicycle Club and Don Kerr, Department of Military Affairs.
Committee Chair Sen. David Tommasoni, DFL-Chisholm, laid the bill over for possible inclusion and recommendation to the bonding committee.
Just prior to offering her Camp Ripley trail legislation, Ruud presented a request of $2.175 million for the Cuyuna Lakes Trail Association. Ruud said the trail benefits the economies of the area. The mentioned fishing, canoeing, kayaking, zip lining and biking.
“It’s a phenomenal area and this is what happens to a mining area when it reinvents itself,” Ruud said.
Howard Lestrud can be reached at [email protected]