The pros and cons of MORC taking a position now about the addition of a paved trail along the MN River Bottoms

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:

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.

And as I noted back in August when I met with Parks & Trails Council Executive Director Brett Feldman, if the new paved trail does get funded by the 2014 Legislature, it doesn’t mean that it’ll get built. It’ll just start the public engagement process. There will be plenty of opportunities for MORC and area mountain bikers to weigh in and try to influence the outcome. I’ve also argued that for MORC to take public stance in opposition now runs the risk of appearing to be NIMBY-ish and alienating two agencies who support a second paved trail there and who’ve been supportive of mountain biking in the past, the Parks & Trails Council and the Parks and Trails Division of the  MN DNR.

I heard two opposing arguments last night at the MORC board meeting. (I’m not going to attribute the arguments to anyone as A) I didn’t take careful notes; and B) I haven’t gotten permission. I’m a MORC board member first and a blogger second on this issue.)

  1. There could be an advantage in the legislative process for a contrary position from a significant stakeholder to become known early, as a committee reviewing the trails on a funding request list might just decide to delete the trail from the list to avoid the controversy.  Also, the public position statement could be worded positively in content and tone, ie, listing all the reasons (recreation, environment, economic, etc) why the status quo is preferred.
  2. MORC’s relationship with the Parks and Trails Division of the  MN DNR is not likely to be adversely affected by opposing a second paved trail as A) there’s no DNR land in the Metro area that’s likely to be considered for mountain bike trails; and B) any future possibilities for mountain biking on DNR land around the state will hinge mainly on the success of Cuyuna Lakes and not on what happens with the MN River Bottoms.

These are good arguments. I’m thinking about them. Attach a comment below if you’ve got some reactions or chime in on the discussion thread in the MORC Forum titled Should there be a paved trail in the River Bottoms?


  1. Bob Shepherd said:

    IMO, the arguments last night were well-stated. People rely on MORC to act on behalf of mountain bikers. Plus, since mountain bikers are the main trail stewards for the River Bottoms trail; The hikers, birders, and dog walkers need our support too. I don’t like to get political, but MORC needs to state our position early, before things have a chance to progress.

    (adding my own sauce to the argument) Even if the DNR gave the go-ahead for 2 trails (which is doubtful) there are a lot of tight areas down there. Once the go-ahead is given, any compromises between pavement and natural will go in favor of pavement. Otherwise, the paved trail cannot be completed. In the end, the natural trail will consist of a bunch of rogue shoot-offs from a paved trail.

    I won’t get into the flooding/soil arguments. But all you need to do is look at Crosby or Hidden Falls parks to see how much pavement maintenance is involved, and how little bike traffic it sees. Same thing with the paved bike trail (that they finally tore out) which ran between Lillydale Road and the river.

    Finally, your argument “if the new paved trail does get funded by the 2014 Legislature, it doesn’t mean that it’ll get built” is like telling your girlfriend that she’ll probably not get pregnant.

    January 14, 2014
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks for chiming in, Bob. But let’s leave my girlfriend out of it, tho, since I just celebrated my 40th wedding anniversary. 😉

    First, a clarification: it’s not the DNR who would give the go-ahead on two trails. It would be the US Fish and Wildlife Service which manages the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. The DNR is already in favor of two trails which is why it’s in the bonding bill.

    Yes, MORC needs to act on behalf of mountain bikers, but there’s a range of what that could be. Don Youngdahl has talked about the advantage of having bridges built and maintained over the various streams if there was a second paved trail, relieving MORC trail volunteers of that continuous battle. Reed Smidt mentioned last night that we would insist on getting significant funding to get help with trail maintenance. Both could be viewed as outcomes on behalf of mountain bikers, couldn’t they?

    As for whether or not what gets funded will necessarily get built, you’re probably right. But the DNR has been known to change course based on public input. See this Strib article from last year:

    Metro officials like new approach to rules on Mississippi development

    January 14, 2014
  3. Bob Shepherd said:

    My mistake about Fish and Wildlife rather than DNR. But the point remains the same, and speculation last night was that “they” may not allow two trails.

    Reed’s point was a good one that we might be able to argue for some maintenance funding. However, after hearing the other arguments, I think he is backing off on that. Similarly, Don’s point about bridges also falls into the category of getting “Other People’s Money”. While that is appealing, we need to resist the temptation, and instead make our decisions based on what is best for the mountain bike trail.

    The proverb goes: Once the camel gets his nose under the tent, his body will soon follow.

    January 14, 2014
  4. Drew L. said:

    Personally I don’t think this is a good idea, nature wise. Keep in mind I’m pretty sure that this is a national wild life refugee. The making of the paved trails will generate some pollution and if the trail is built the people that bike on that, like families might Accidentaly litter. If you do make the paved trail the people that make it will have to take down a lot of trees to make that. Also, the paved trail with all of the noise, will ruin the sereneniss of the MN River Bottoms. Also the “feel” will be ruined by all of the activity the paved trail will make. The amount of money that will go in will be a lot and the maitenence will increase. It might probably be like Crosby. In conclusion I think this isn’t a great idea and I think it shouldnt happen. The cons out wiegh the pros in my opinion.

    January 16, 2014

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