Archived Story

House bonding bill proposes $2.5M for Shooting Star Trail

Published 4:28pm Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Minnesota House’s $1.34 billion bonding bill released Thursday includes good news for local bicycle and trail enthusiasts.

The House bonding bill proposes $2.5 million to acquire and develop about 11 miles of the Shooting Star Trail from Rose Creek to Austin.

“This is the big one,” said Becky Hartwig, owner of the Rose Pedaler in Rose Creek and president of Prairie Visions.

A biker takes part in the Shooting Star Trail Bike Ride last July. The state House is proposing $2.5 million for the trail. -- Herald file photo
A biker takes part in the Shooting Star Trail Bike Ride last July. The state House is proposing $2.5 million for the trail. — Herald file photo

If the money goes forward and is approved by Gov. Mark Dayton, work could start on the trail this fall and be finished within two years.

Volunteers like Gerald Meier, chairman of Prairie Visions trail committee, have worked on the trail since the early 1990s, and he said many thought they’d complete the trail by reaching Austin in 1998. He said he’s pleased to see the end of the line after decades of work.

“I’m very happy about it,” Meier said. He added views of the trail have become more positive over time.

Vision 2020’s Bike/Walk Trails Committee joined the effort in recent years, and Hartwig said the group’s involvement boosted the push to complete the trail.

“They jumped in at the right time,” Hartwig said.

The bill also includes $500,000 to acquire and develop four miles of the Blazing Star Trail from Mrye-Big Island State Park near Albert Lea to Hayward. The plan is to eventually connect the Shooting and Blazing Star trails.

Craig Hoium, with the Blazing Star Trail joint powers board, said seeing the trail made it into the House proposal was “good news for all the trail supporters.”

Though the trail funding was also not included in the governor’s proposal, he said the trail is a designated legislative trail so he doubts the Legislature will want to leave the trail half-developed for long.

Overall, the bill proposes $19.4 million for the acquisition and development of state trails.

After reaching Austin, the Mower County board has committed to connecting the trail with Iowa’s Wapsi-Great Western Trail.

Bill includes $7.5M for lake dredge

The bill also calls for $7.5 million to dredge Albert Lea’s Fountain Lake.

“We are super pleased with the turnout of the House bill having our project included,” said Brett Behnke, administrator of the Shell Rock River Watershed District. “We know this is only a baby step, and we have a long way to go with the Senate and the governor.”

The announcement came a week after more than two dozen Albert Lea leaders traveled up to the Capitol to meet with legislators about the project. They were representatives from multiple organizations, including the city, Freeborn County, the Shell Rock River Watershed District, the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce and the Albert Lea Convention and Visitors Bureau, among others.

Lakes Foundation President Laura Lunde said legislators were receptive to the information presented.

“I think the thing that made a wave at the capital was the critical high-level support from the community,” Lunde said. “That’s going to be so crucial going forward in the next few weeks.”

The Senate has not yet announced when its bonding bill will be released, and Gov. Mark Dayton’s recommended projects were presented in January. His proposed $986 million in state-backed projects did not include Albert Lea’s dredging project, but Dayton’s staff last week told local officials the governor is looking for a project in southern Minnesota to include in the bill.

Behnke said though the bonding bill is far from completed, this is the best position the project has been in at this stage during the years the Watershed District has requested funds.

He thanked the legislators and the community for the support it has shown.

“We still have a long way to the finish line,” Lunde said. “And there’s a lot of work still to be done.”

The dredging project has been gaining momentum since the Shell Rock River Watershed District in fall 2012 purchased a 2010 IMS 7012 HP 51-foot Versi hydraulic dredge for about $340,000, along with the pipes, pumping and other equipment necessary to pump the dredge material away from the lake for $435,000. District leaders have also contracted out for preliminary engineering.

Officials have stated the entire project is estimated at $15 million, with the other half of the cost coming from a local-option sales tax.

Watershed and city officials have said previously the project is necessary because the lake has become filled with sediment — as much as 5 to 8 feet in some areas. The accumulation has resulted in water quality impairment and large algae blooms.

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