On National Trails Day, June 6th, hundreds came out to attend the ribbon cutting, have cake, listen to speeches and enjoy a sunny day on Minnesota's latest recreational destination, the Brown's Creek State Trail. It's only about six miles long, but makes a very important connection between the Gateway State Trail and downtown Stillwater.
"How great is it to say you rode your bike from the birthplace of Minnesota to the capitol?" says Christie Rosckes, director of the Stillwater Convention and Visitors Bureau who hopes it will draw more outdoor enthusiasts to the scenic St. Croix River Valley.
"It's a perfect trail for all ages and skill levels." she says and points out the gentle rise out of the valley on a former railroad grade.
But the downtown connection is not the final spoke in Stillwater's recreational wheel. Once the new bridge over the St. Croix River is built, the iconic Stillwater lift bridge will become part of a 5-mile bike and pedestrian loop into Wisconsin.
"The city of Stillwater knows the importance of biking tourism and providing parks and trails for residents" Rosckes says.
The brass band played When the Saints go marching in and kids milled around on bikes decorated with colorful streamers, and in this party atmosphere it was easy to forget that for some trail supporters the work is far from over.
"The Gateway Trail is still a trail in progress." Says John Oldendorf, former president of the Gateway Brown's Creek Trail Association (GBCTA). The 225-member group formed in 1989 with the goal of building a recreational trail on the abandoned Soo Line railroad right of way. GBTCA volunteers have adopted one-mile segments of the Gateway and Brown's Creek trails to pick up litter and alert the DNR of problems.
"For over a decade our association has been working with the DNR and the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota to obtain easements to extend the trail to William O'Brien State Park, and then to Scandia, MN." says Oldendorf. The master plan calls for the Gateway trail to eventually get to Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls.
Currently, it ends at Pine Point Park near Stillwater.
"Right now we're focused on finding a route between Pine Point Park and William O'Brien State Park. There is only one easement remaining to be acquired between downtown Scandia and O'Brien State Park, but several key easements remain to be obtained from Pine Point to O'Brien" says Oldendorf. He is optimistic, but experience tells him that "These things don't happen overnight." and take the dedication of people over many years.
According to Oldendorf, new memberships are on the rise since the soft opening of the Brown's Creek Trail last year and he hopes a new generation of trail supporters will step up to the task of completing the Gateway Trail.
Bob Hagstrom, a founding member of the GBCTA, summed it up in his speech just before the ribbon cutting: "For those who love to hike, love to bike, love this trail: This is our legacy."