By Kate Bergeron, Contributing Writer
It’s been said that the Gateway Trail is a true getaway.
In the next decade, that getaway likely will pass through May Township and Scandia on its way to Taylor’s Falls.
Currently, the trail starts a mile north of the capitol in St. Paul and ends 18 miles away at Pine Point Park on Norell Avenue North in May Township. It is the most-used multi-recreational trail in Minnesota with more than 300,000 pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians each year.
Now a consortium including the Gateway Trail Association, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Friends of Scandia Parks and Trails is working to finish the trail between Pine Point Park and Scandia.
The finished trail will run from southwest to northeast through May Township.
The plan is to connect segments starting at Pine Point Park to May Township Hall to Wilder Forest to William O’Brien State Park to Scandia.
Two-and-a-half miles in Wilder Woods and other individual chunks have been purchased, including a lot next to Meister’s Bar and Grill, which John Oldendorf, president of the Gateway Trail Association, said will make a good trailhead, or entry point for the trail.
He estimates the trail in Wilder Woods will be paved within three to five years.
Once a segment connects to the state park, either from the north or south, the park will build the trail segment within the park, Oldendorf said.
The Gateway Trail expansion was the top recreation priority of Scandia residents according to a survey by the Friends of Scandia Parks and Trails, said Chairman Tom Triplett.
Other high priorities were to create walking, biking and riding trails in the city.
The Friends of Scandia Parks and Trails organization was created in October 2008 when members of the city’s park and recreation committee realized the city government couldn’t get everything done by itself.
The Gateway Trail has become its principle focus, Triplett said.
For Bill Voedisch, chairman of the May Township Board, the presence of the trail is a safety issue, and safety can’t be ignored. People walking, running, biking and horseback riding on the county roads aren’t truly safe, even with an eight-foot-wide shoulder.
“We really need something better,” he said. “Those cars go by at 60 miles per hour” on County Road 7.
Buying right-of-way easements from landowners remains the challenge because the system depends on willing landowners.
“Hopefully we’ll get all the pieces of the puzzle together,” Oldendorf said. “These things go very, very slowly.”
“It’s not like an old railroad bed we can just pick up,” Voedisch said. “This is through the countryside, through the terrain. It’s almost by definition a very slow process.”
Even after landowners agree to give the trail easement onto their property, which alone can take years of negotiations, appraisals, engineering and feasibility studies, the process can be tedious.
Minnesota has provided $750,000, which Oldendorf said will probably buy easement options on two more segments of land.
“They give us little chunks, and they expect us to use it in two years’ time,” Oldendorf said. “Frankly, we have the money to pay for the things we’re working on now.”
Government finances are one of multiple reasons for landowner Marv Schroeder’s resistance for allowing the Gateway Trail onto his property.
“I could care less about a bike trail,” Schroeder said.
He said he has no love for bikes or horses, but in particular sees the trail as a foolish way to spend government money.
“They could use that money in a lot of other places,” he said.
He said one proposal was for a trail to run 50-60 rods, about 825-900 feet, along a creek on his property.
Voedisch has discussed the trail with Schroeder and is familiar with the proposal for Schroeder’s land.
“It’s just a really gorgeous setting” with pristine wetland, creek and farmland experience, Voedisch said.
Voedisch did not dismiss Schroeder’s trepidation, but said the DNR works with the landowner to alleviate those concerns.
“I think any landowner can have valid concerns,” he said.
May Township thinks the trail is a worthy asset to the community and gives many landowners an incentive to host the trail.
With several landowners reluctant to host the trail on their property, the organizations involved need to be creative and look at all the options, Voedisch said.
He pointed out that when the DNR pays for the easement option, the land is not lost, because the DNR buys the easement and not the land.
“Obviously, it is always on a willing landowner basis. For sure the Gateway Trail is not going to force itself upon anyone,” he said.
Oldendorf said he expects the trail to be finished between William O’Brien State Park and Scandia before the Pine Point Park and William O’Brien State Park segment.
“If we get all the pieces together, the state will do all the engineering and paving,” he said.
Once in Scandia, Triplett said a platted but unpaved road may be used for the trail, and it may cross Minnesota Highway 97 at the stoplight at Olinda Trail because of safety.
Planning for the trail north of Minnesota Highway 97 will not begin until 2011.
“We just wish it would go a little bit faster,” Triplett said.
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