Tag: MN River Bottoms advocacy

I attended the 2014 Parks and Trails Council Day on the Hill on Tuesday with my MORC Board member hat on, as I’m paying close attention to the bonding bills (HF 2497 and SF 2144) that have been introduced at MN Legislature. (See the March 6 blog post by the MN Parks and Trails Council titled Over 100 gather to advocate for parks and trails.)

Ed CrozierThe bills include $2.5 million in funding “to develop the Minnesota Valley Trail from the Bloomington Ferry Bridge to the Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center in Bloomington.” Among those invited to speak about various trails seeking funding was Ed Crozier, Friends of the MN Valley Trail Advocacy Group. Ed’s presentation included a video explaining his group’s rationale for adding a paved segment to the trail system.

Advocacy Organizations Photo album

At last night’s MORC board meeting, there was some interesting discussion about the pros and cons of MORC taking a public position on the addition of a paved trail along the MN River Bottoms in Bloomington. (See my previous 5 blog posts about advocacy related to the MN River bottoms issue going back to last July.)

L to R: Kent Karjala, Dennis Porter, Matt Andrews, Don Youngdahl

Wearing my citizen/taxpayer hat, I’m personally against adding a new paved trail between 169 and Cedar as I think the maintenance costs would be outrageous. But I’ve been arguing that it’s best for MORC to not publicly oppose it right now till we know more.

I wrote back in November:

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Matt Andrews, MORC Executive Director; Assoc Regional Director of IMBA Upper MidwestI last blogged about advocacy related to the MN River bottoms issue back in August (here).  Since then, Matt Andrews has started his new job as the new Executive Director of MORC and Associate Regional Director of IMBA’s Upper Midwest region.

The MORC Board has indicated that they want him to get up to speed on the issue, so those of us who’ve been involved have been bombarding him with PDFs, emails, and links to everything we can think of.

L to R: Matt Andrews, Dennis Porter, Don Youngdahl, Kent Karjala L to R: Matt Andrews, Kent Karjala, Don Youngdahl, Dennis Porter L to R: Kent Karjala, Dennis Porter, Matt Andrews, Don Youngdahl,

And today, he got taken to school—a tour through the MN River Bottoms from I35W to the Hwy 169 Bloomington Ferry Bridge and back, narrated by longtime MN River Bottoms dirt bosses Dennis Porter and Don Youngdahl, with Kent Karjala and I chiming in regularly.

The issue of adding a paved trail to this segment of the River Bottoms will heat up in January when the MN Legislature starts its 2014 session. A DNR request for funding for a paved trail through the River Bottoms from Cedar to 169 is likely to be included in the trails bonding bill.

The MORC Board hasn’t taken a formal position yet, as it’s not yet known whether the US Fish and Wildlife Service will allow two trails through the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. I think it’s a safe bet that if only one trail is allowed and the DNR wants it paved, the MORC board will encourage mountain bikers to organize in opposition to the plan. If two trails are allowed (paved and natural surface), we’ll work to preserve the existing multiuse trail as much as possible, while collaborating on shared facilities like bridges and trailheads.

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I was on my way back from taking photos of the sand on the paved path south of the Bloomington Ferry Bridge trailhead yesterday (that’s another story) when I met Ron Hagen and his dog Sadie on the pedestrian bridge.

Ron Hagen

Ron has lived right at the top of the hill on Auto Club Rd since the early 90s and has been in a wheelchair a long time (farm accident).

I told him that one of the arguments by the proponents of a paved trail through a metro-area wildlife refuge is that it would be a tremendous benefit for handicapped people in wheelchairs.

He scoffed at this, based on his belief that the river and the unstable ground underneath a paved trail would quickly destroy it.

He’s a regular user of paved trails and sidewalks with his electric wheelchair and said he’ll make plenty use of the new Hyland Multi-Modal Trail Project recently approved by the Bloomington City Council since the connecting trail will go right by his house.

He gave me his email address (we’ve since connected) and is willing to show up at any public meetings.

He also said that his two neighbors who own land all the down the bluff to the river have refused to sell the land in the past and are adamant about not selling in the future.

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Brett Feldman, Griff WigleyI first met Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota Executive Director Brett Feldman back in March at their legislative ‘Day on the Hill’. We subsequently had lunch here in Northfield where we talked about the City’s bicycling issues/opportunities.

So when I saw the article in their Spring 2013 issue of Minnesota Trails magazine about The Friends of the Minnesota Valley’s Trail Advocacy Group that’s lobbying for either a paved or ‘improved surface’ trail in the River Bottoms (see my blog post for the full text of the article), I knew I needed to meet with Brett to learn more.  We met in his office at the Council’s Lowertown HQ last Thursday.

Brett was clear: the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota is backing the creation of a new paved (yes, paved) trail through the Bloomington segment, approximately 13 miles. His points, included some made in the article:

  • article - A Rally to the Finish LineMany thousands of residents who live in nearby Bloomington and adjacent suburbs would have easy access to the trail
  • Trailheads are/would be near the light rail stations, making the trail more accessible to a larger number of metro-area residents
  • The 2013 MN Legislature has presented the City of Bloomington with both a carrot and stick to reopen the old Cedar Avenue Bridge by the spring of 2016 (see the May StarTribune article, Mall of America expansion funding has $9 million bridge to cross). This will make the new trail much more accessible to thousands of people in Dakota County.
  • Nearly all the land is publicly owned so the acquisition cost normally associated with a new trail is moot
  • A paved trail through a metro-area wildlife refuge would be a tremendous benefit for handicapped people in wheelchairs

Brett believes there’s room for two trails (paved and natural surface/mountain bike) as does the DNR apparently.  But it’s not yet clear where the US Fish and Wildlife Service stands on this issue. The MN Valley Wildlife Refuge has a new director, Tim Bodeen, who started a couple weeks ago.

Brett acknowledged that the cost for ongoing maintenance of a paved trail through miles of an area that frequently floods is a significant problem, one faced by no other DNR trail in the state. As I’ve blogged (here and here), when the Minnesota River floods, it deposits large amounts of silt/sand/muck. When it dries, we mountain bikers just ride on top of it. While the DNR can bond for repair of trails damaged by catastrophic flooding (recent examples: Root River, Willard Munger) as well as their replacement after 20 years of wear and tear, bonding money isn’t used for ongoing maintenance. If a paved trail is approved for the MN River Bottoms, it’ll require a major MOU with some entity (City of Bloomington?) for the maintenance.

Lastly, Brett explained that getting the new trail funded (no sure thing) doesn’t mean that it’ll get built. It’ll just start the process. As I blogged, the DNR has included the trail in its list of those to be supported by its trails-related $10 million preliminary 2014 bonding request (see pages 17-18 of this PDF).

But:

  • We won’t know till next spring whether that’s approved by the legislature and signed by Gov. Dayton
  • If the money’s approved, an extensive public planning process for the trail would then begin. MORC and various other stakeholder groups (eg, Upper Midwest Trail Runners, Twin Cities’ Volkssport, Thoreau Society, etc.) would all have a ‘seat at the table.’
  • The planning process could ultimately culminate with a result that a new paved trail is neither practical, affordable, or acceptable to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. In which case, the bond money will simply shift to acquisition/development of other trails.

My take:

While it’s not too early for MORC to ‘get in the game’ by developing relationships with key people/organizations, it seems too early to rally the troops for broader advocacy efforts like letter-writing and organized lobbying of legislators.  That’s a decision for the MORC Board, of course.

I think we can safely assume that Brett and the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota will take MORC’s mountain biking-related concerns seriously and work to find a way to accommodate mountain biking along the MN River Bottoms. The Council was an early supporter in the creation of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails (CLMTBT) and Brett knows the important role MORC played in its development.

The success of Cuyuna has far-reaching positive implications for mountain biking’s future development in Minnesota, especially on state-owned land. We’ll need to continue partnering with the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota to help it happen, so we best treat them as a partner, even if we sometimes disagree.

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With my MORC member hat on, I’ve been doing a little advocacy work on issues related to the mountain bike trails along the Bloomington segment of the MN River Bottoms (see my July blog posts here and here). The MN Dept. of Natural Resources is among the land managers there with their Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area.

Last week I noticed that the DNR’s 2014 bonding request includes money to develop a trail down there. See pages 17-18 of this PDF which states:

Develop Key Trails — $10 million. 

$10 million is to acquire and develop key segments of state trails and to provide funding to complete segments that only have partial funding. Project priorities include Cuyuna, Gitchi-Gami, Heartland, Paul Bunyan and Minnesota Valley State Trails.

Peter Hark, Griff WigleySo I had coffee at the GBM on Friday with Peter Hark, almost a Northfielder and Field Operations Manager in the Parks and Trails Division of the MN DNR. I first met Peter back in March at the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota’s Day on the Hill.

Even though Peter’s not directly involved in trail acquisition and development, I wanted to pick his brain to try to get a better understanding of how the funding and planning process for trails works. He did not disappoint.

MORC’s concerns, of course, are that the creation of a new MN River Bottoms trail (likely paved) could jeopardize the natural surface shared-use trails there now that we use for year-round mountain biking.

Side note: One of Peter’s pet projects (my phrase) is the addition of yurts to the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trail System. See this April CLMBT blog post for some details. He also told me that there’s a good possibility that next year’s Fat Bike Summit could be held at Cuyuna, in which case, I’d like to make my yurt reservation right now.

Next step: getting Peter to go for a MN River Bottoms trail ride on a fat bike, Real Soon Now. He said he’s willing. Stay tuned.

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