If you have ever attempted to put together a puzzle, you know the feeling: the pieces are spread out on your table sorted by color, but that’s as far as you’ve gotten. You alternately stare at the image on the box and back at the mess in front of you, when suddenly you snap in one more piece and a picture starts to emerge. A picture, perhaps, of a recreational trail with national significance, winding through Minnesota farmland and state parks, around lakes and over rivers. A scenic route connecting communities hundreds of miles apart, stretching from Fergus Falls to Cass Lake or St. Cloud to Bemidji. And all you have to do is put in that one puzzle piece.
Unlike the European castle on the puzzle box, the Camp Ripley/Veterans State Trail is something you will be likely to experience yourself in due time. It officially received its state trail designation in 2009 and when completed will provide a connection between Crow Wing State Park and the Soo Line Trail, effectively linking the Central Lakes, Lake Wobegon, Soo Line, Paul Bunyan, Heartland and Mi-Gi-Zi Trails into one continuous recreational route. As a first in Minnesota recreational trail construction, it will also be a true multi-use trail from its inception, accommodating motorized as well as non-motorized users. Along the way you will have access to Charles A. Lindbergh State Park, Crow Wing State Park, the Crow Wing and Mississippi Rivers and many other natural and historic sites. It will put Little Falls at the hub of an interconnected trail system of an estimated 400 miles. In addition, the Camp Ripley Veterans State Trail will be a part of the Mississippi River Trail, a designated route from the Mississippi Headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico (signage to be installed starting spring of 2011). Although no formal path has been put on paper, the trail will likely progress through very scenic lands." I have been told that this statement would more adequately reflect Camp Ripley leadership's opinion.
The driving force behind this project is the Camp Ripley/Veterans State Trail Committee which has been holding regular monthly meetings since the fall of 2009, an effort initiated by the Little Falls Visitors and Convention Bureau. The committee is made up of officials from state and local governments, the military, companies, representatives of trail user organizations and private persons. The National Park Service and the Nature Conservancy have also showed a keen interest in this project, which could have a lasting economic impact on the region. Diversifying central Minnesota’s economic base through expanding tourism could be a way to combat the chronically high rates of unemployment and low average incomes which have weighed down the region. Creating this trail system with national and possibly international magnitude will help direct some of the $ 3.2 billion spent by Minnesota trail users annually (according to a 2009 study by the U of M Tourism Center) to our area, a kind of investment in central Minnesota’s future.
Ironically, the way to a trail is a long journey and it has only just begun. We need help getting there and we could use your talents, especially in the areas of fundraising, public relations and trail planning. If you are interested in participating or just want more information, the committee meets every second Thursday of the month at 5:30 pm. at the Marty Skoglund Environmental Education Center, Camp Ripley, MN.
Story submitted by Jan Lasar, Secretary, Camp Ripley/Veterans State Trail, www.crvtrail.com