Tag: <span>MN River Bottoms advocacy</span>

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.

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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:


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.


DSC03373 DSC03399 DSC03370

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.


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).


  • 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.


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.


Gary Sjoquist, Dennis Porter, Don YoungdahlFellow MORC members Dennis Porter, Don Youngdahl  and I met with QBP Advocacy Director Gary Sjoquist yesterday at QBP’s HQ in Bloomington to discuss the current situation with the mountain bike trails in the Minnesota River Bottoms that I blogged about last week.

The MORC Board has not taken a formal position on the proposed paved or ‘finished surface’ trail through the Cedar-to-169 segment (Bloomington refuge corridor), nor have they officially appointed any of us to speak for them. But given the long history that Don, Dennis and Gary have with this issue, I think it’s probably fair to say that the Board is happy to have us working on it. I volunteered to be an informal liaison to the Board.

Our strategy for the next two months is simple: meet with the leaders  we know at the various government agencies and other key organizations to get a better understanding of what they know and their concerns. The new manager of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge has been hired and evidently will be starting in August.  In the meantime, we’ll be contacting people at the Parks and Trails Division of the DNR, the Parks and Trails Council of MN, the City of Bloomington, and the MN Division of the Izaac Walton League.

I edited my blog post to make it clearer that website for The Friends of the Minnesota Valley’s Trail Advocacy Group is a separate website from the Friends of the Minnesota Valley website. While Ed Crozier is listed as Director Emeritus of the Friends of the Minnesota Valley, it would appear that his advocacy on this issue has not been embraced by their Board. If true, we need to understand why.

One of the arguments against constructing a paved or ‘finished surface’ trail along the bottom lands of the Minnesota River is that it’s likely to be very expensive to maintain it since the river regularly floods. After the meeting, Don Youndahl and I did a reconnaissance ride from the Bloomington Ferry Bridge trailhead to see the condition of the trail since the flooding that had occurred a week ago.

Don wrote last night in the MORC forum:

Tried a reconnaissance ride from Bloomington Ferry late this morning. Almost no standing water, but still too wet in the low spots. The good news is the flooding has knocked down a lot of the itch-weed. Wait for a few more good drying days, & bring a hand saw. The flood has done it’s usual job on the trail.

MN River Bottoms flooding, Bloomington, July 2013

MN River Bottoms flooding, Bloomington, July 2013 MN River Bottoms flooding, Bloomington, July 2013 MN River Bottoms flooding, Bloomington, July 2013 MN River Bottoms flooding, Bloomington, July 2013
As you can see, the flooding deposited huge amounts of muck everywhere, including on top of the bridges that cross the smaller streams (bridges that Don, Dennis and other MORC members have constructed and reconstructed many times over the years). If there was a paved or ‘finished surface’ trail through there, the cleanup costs would be significant. It’s not clear which government agency would budget for this regular occurrence.

Griff Wigley and Don Youngdahl Griff Wigley and Don Youngdahl
I took the selfie on the left when Don and I returned to the parking lot. We toasted ourselves afterwards at Zeke’s Place.


Griff Wigley, MN River BottomsI’ve been riding my mountain bike on the trails in the MN River Bottoms since December 2011, just a few months after I started mountain biking. I’ve published many posts here on my blog about my experiences there.

In short, I love these trails because A) they’re only 35 minutes away from my house; B) they’re generally open when all other trails in the area are closed, especially in winter; C) there are many optional technical obstacles to ride there which I love; D) they’re not as well-maintained as the other singletrack trails in the area (vive la différence!); and E) riding in the wilderness setting along the river is a treat.

So I was distressed to learn that this trail system might be at risk because of plans under consideration to put either a paved or an ‘improved surface’ trail there.  Some members of MORC who have been paying attention and working on this issue for years have asked others to get involved.

DSC05443Back in May, one of these members, Don Youngdahl, started a discussion thread in the MORC forum as a way of helping others to get more informed and hopefully engaged. Right photo: I briefly met Don (red hat) last October during the opening of the west trail head at Lebanon Hills.

Don and I are meeting on Friday this week with a couple of other MORC members who have a long history with this issue, Dennis Porter and Gary Sjoquist.  My purpose in composing this blog post now is primarily self-serving: writing about an issue is a way for me to better understand it.  Of course, I’m hoping others will benefit from it.

The issue is complicated in part because of the number of land managers, including:

Don’s summary:

The Minnesota Valley Recreational Trail was authorized by the Minnesota legislature in 1971, to run from Fort Snelling to Le Sueur, and later was incorporated into the newly established Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area in 1976, to be administered by the Minnesota DNR. The Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1976, and much of the land between Fort Snelling to Bloomington Ferry is part of both the National Wildlife Refuge and and the Minnesota Valley Recreation Area.

Phil Westover Google Map of MN River Bottoms MTB trailsFor mountain bikers, the issue is focused on the bottom-land portion of the trail system between Cedar Avenue and the Bloomington Ferry Bridge.

(See Phil Westover’s Google Map of MN River Bottoms MTB trails.)

In 2006, the DNR produced a Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area Management Plan (PDF). Some excerpts related to mountain biking:

The 2002-2003 MVSRA User Survey, page 39 (page 51 of the PDF):

Multiuse: The trail should be a multiuse trail system with differing uses in different segments of the trail (not all segments of the trail need to accommodate all uses).

Trail Surface: When asked about whether they prefer a different trail surface, most people seem to be satisfied with the surface they are using. Those using the paved surface in Fort Snelling State Park prefer to stay on paved trails and those using the natural surface in the Bloomington area, for example, prefer that type of surface. When asked what they think about more paved trails, users either strongly oppose or mildly oppose more paved trails.

Recommendations per trail segment including units Cedar Avenue to Bloomington Ferry page 51 (page 63 of the PDF):

In lieu of official trail development, local biking groups such as MORC (Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists) have aligned and maintained an informal trail with volunteers. A significant amount of erosion is occurring on the bluffsides, and in the ravines in this area due to a variety of factors (topography, soils, run-off from the streets and developments along the bluff, and a proliferation 52 of trails due to difficult stream crossings). Because of this, the City of Bloomington is working with MORC to develop more sustainable mountain-biking trails in this area.

On page 52 (page 64 of the PDF):

It should be noted that throughout the planning process, little-to-no support was expressed from the public for a traditional paved multiuse trail through this area. (The public is defined as those who attended meetings, sent in written comments, or who participated in the Household and User Surveys.)

The Spring 2013 issue of Minnesota Trails magazine, published by the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota, has an article about the group that’s lobbying for either a paved or ‘improved surface’ trail in the River Bottoms. The group calls themselves The Friends of the Minnesota Valley’s Trail Advocacy Group and the Bloomington Geezer Squad and its leader is Ed Crozier (see his LinkedIn page here). While he’s listed as Director Emeritus on the Friends of the Minnesota Valley website, the two sites are completely separate.

The magazine isn’t available online so here’s a photo of the article and the text:

DSC01152-800wA trail section that has sat for decades as a good idea may soon become a place where people get outdoors and connect with nature—thanks to a newly formed citizen group.

They call themselves the Friends of the Minnesota Valley’s Trail Advocacy Group. Although they are small in number, their dedication and know-how are making big strides in completing the Minnesota Valley State Trail. The founder and retired manager of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Ed Crozier, leads the group.

“Me and my retired friend, Dick Duerre, decided we needed to contribute to something again in our retirement,” explained Crozier. Since then others have joined the cause, and with Crozier’s track record of success in creating the wildlife refuge, there are high hopes for this effort.

The Legislature authorized the Minnesota Valley State Trail in 1967. The trail was intended to extend about 60 miles from Fort Snelling State Park, through the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge and the Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area (MVSRA), with its southern border in Belle Plaine. Currently about six miles of the trail are paved and another 40 miles, within in the MVSRA, are unpaved.

The trail advocacy group is working on the nearly 20 miles of unfinished trail. Usually the biggest impediment to developing a trail is gaining access through privately owned land. That is what makes this project unique; nearly all the land is publicly owned. Such an opportunity should not be passed up, according to Crozier.

Thousands of people would have easy access to the trail, with trailheads near several light rail stations. Metro-area residents may be surprised to find this oasis of nature along the Minnesota River, within steps of their homes. “The trail would help people appreciate the Minnesota River and the National Wildlife Refuge, and in turn, hopefully help to protect it,” said Crozier.

The bulk of the trail section runs through the city of Bloomington, and citizen involvement has been most active here. A Bloomington group called the Geezer Squad has become particularly involved in restoring the historic Cedar Avenue Bridge connection to the trail. The bridge was built in 1920 and operated as a pedestrian bridge for years until its deteriorating condition led to its closing in 2002. The bridge crosses over Long Meadow Lake and overlooks marshland with abundant wildlife.

Now that the trail is mapped out, money is needed to develop it. “The Parks & Trails Council arranged for us to meet with the Department of Natural Resources folks, which kicked off the efforts to calculate cost estimates [for 13 miles of the trail],” said Crozier. Now the group is talking with legislators to appropriate bonding dollars.

As soon as 2014, a bonding bill may be passed to start the work. The group is dedicated to press on until the trail is finished. “Most of us are past retirement age; this is our last hoorah,” said Crozier.

On their petition page they support having two trails. And they avoid using the word ‘paved’ for their trail:

The ten-foot wide trail will have a surface suitable for hiking and narrow-tire biking. A separate mountain bike trail will also be maintained, usually out of sight of the hike/bike trail. The two trails will share bridges and other structures at stream crossings and other barriers. ATVs, snowmobiles and horses will not be allowed.

Some of my random thoughts:

Are trail descriptions like “improved surface” and “finished” are really euphemisms for ‘paved?’

Some government agencies support having two trails; others oppose it. And some support having a paved trail while others oppose it.  Thus far, I’ve not found any online documents to verify these positions, nor have I talked to anyone from these agencies.

Would I support a new paved or “improved surface” trail in the River Bottoms as long as the existing MTB trail was maintained as a separate trail?  It’s hard to justify the cost, estimated to be $2.5 million. The pool of money for 21 trail-related projects initially considered by the 2013 MN Legislature was ultimately removed from the HF 1183-4 bill. It’ll likely come up for 2014 of course, and I can think of many mountain bike-related trails that could greatly benefit from that money instead.

But it’s also important to consider our relationship with our institutional ‘friends’ of mountain biking. The Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota was instrumental in securing key funding for the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trail System. They are an important ally for the future of mountain bike trail funding/land access in MN.

The DNR should be considered a friend of mountain biking because they control Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trail System and many other areas around the state that would be conducive to future mountain bike trails. And without even being asked, they just kicked another $100,000 this year into Cuyuna.

So mountain bikers’ position needs to be very carefully nuanced, with a eye towards maintaining and even strengthening our relationships with the DNR and the Parks and Trails Council. We don’t want to win this battle in a way that contributes to losing the war. But the MTB trail system in the MN River Bottoms is a gem that we need to protect.

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