The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 27, 2013

Ideas expressed for multi-use trail

By Brian Ojanpa
The Free Press

ST PETER — Bikers, hikers, horse riders and snowmobilers gathered in St. Peter Wednesday to share and incubate ideas for a multi-use trail from Franklin to Le Sueur.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources-hosted open house for the interest groups was the first of several planned for the trail project the state authorized in 2002.

But as DNR Planner Suzanne Rhees pointed out, the path to a recreational trail is always lengthy.

"It's a lot easier to get a trail authorized than to get a trail developed," she said.

The Minnesota River State Trail would follow a corridor along the river from Franklin in Renville County to Le Sueur.

The format for the Wednesday gathering found people divided into discussion groups to focus on potential trail alignments in relation to highway right-of-ways, trail connection points, what areas the trail should traverse, and what types of trail activities would be best in given locales.

Rhees said there's no timetable for implementation of the trail, and its segments could be completed piecemeal.

More open houses will be held in April and May as the project works toward development of a master plan to address challenges ranging from trail construction on private lands (the DNR would work only with willing landowners) and routing difficulties posed by the steepness of river banks between Mankato and Le Sueur.

Other items the groups brought up for consideration:

-- Bypass routes around towns would be helpful for trail users -- young bikers especially -- who otherwise might have difficulty finding their way if routes go through cities.

-- Installation of natural surfaces where possible to accommodate horses and snowmobiles.

-- User groups working together to share trail corridors.

-- Connecting 7 Mile Creek Park and St. Peter in the most logistically efficient manner for horse riders.

Rhees said wryly that the labyrinthine details that must be worked out with contemporary recreational trails stand in contrast to the first generation of state trails, which essentially came ready-made because they were routed along abandoned rail beds.

Planning for the Franklin to Le Sueur trail began with efforts by Mankato and St. Peter to develop a trail connection between the two communities.