Exploring the world on 2 wheels

Published 7:00am Sunday, May 11, 2014
Bike trails in Austin. Photo submitted
Bike trails in Austin. Photo submitted

It’s been no secret Austin and the surrounding area has taken to the bike; exploring area trails and roads from two wheels rather than four.

As interest in biking has risen over the years, the Austin Daily Herald has decided to offer up this special, bike-centric edition of Sunday Spotlight, complete with the above map of trails in Austin, a rundown of trails outside of a Austin, a feature on Rydjor Bike manager Chad Burma that originally ran in Austin Living Magazine and much more. 

Mower County bicyclists already have 22 miles of the Shooting Star Trail from Rose Creek to LeRoy and more than 14 miles of trail in Austin to enjoy, but someday it could be a lot more.

With a major goal within reach, area trail enthusiasts are looking to the future — even if it’s several years down the road.

The Minnesota House and Senate are discussing funding for the Shooting Star Trail to finally reach a decades-old goal: Austin.

The prospect of $2.5 million to extend the trail from Rose Creek to Austin has many eying Albert Lea, Lyle, Blooming Prairie, Owatonna and Iowa as future destinations.

“People would come to Austin; they’d have the opportunity to ride three different state trails,” said Joel Wagar, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources area parks and trails supervisor.

The DNR’s future plans have the Shooting Star, Blazing Star and Prairie Wildflower trails meeting in Austin. Some like Vision 2020 Bike/Walk Trail Committee Chairman Steve Kime are thinking big picture, and that’s a picture with Austin as a hub with trails heading in each direction on the compass to neighboring communities.

If Austin is eventually at the crossroads of future expansion, it would make the community attractive for trail enthusiasts, Wagar said.

Vision 2020 is already looking to capitalize, as its Gateway to Austin Committee is entering the first phase of researching a proposed Austin visitors center. If built, Gateway to Austin Committee Chairman John Gray said the visitors center would connect to the trail system and offer amenities and parking for cyclists.

“That network of trails would be just a fantastic plus,” Kime said.

Though several projects are several years down the road, here’s a rundown of future trail expansions that could affect Austin and Mower County:

 North to Blooming Prairie and Owatonna

Plans for regional expansion aren’t new. For decades, groups like the DNR and the Southeast Association of Regional Trails (SMART) have planned extensive regional trails.

The Prairie Wildflower Trail from Austin to Blooming Prairie, Owatonna and Faribault was authorized more than 20 years ago, but there’s little progress.

At one point, a railroad line from Austin to Owatonna was going to be vacated, which attracted the attention of trail enthusiasts several years ago, according to Wagar. But plans changed, and the railroad route is still in use. Any trails toward Owatonna would now have to use a different route.

Between Owatonna and Faribault, trail leaders are actively working on a portion of the Prairie Wildflower Trail.

 South to Lyle

After the Shooting Star Trail reaches Austin, the next logical step may be to extend the trail to Lyle.

The DNR owns several miles of land between Austin and Lyle as part of the Lyle-Austin Wildlife Management Area, which is currently managed by the DNR’s Division of Fish and Wildlife. The DNR Division of Parks and Trails is discussing the possibility of adding the trail with the wildlife division.

The DNR owns the land, which could save on land acquisition, but funding is still an issue.

“Obviously funding is the key on all of these things,” Kime said.

 South to Iowa

Along with Lyle, the Mower County board has committed to connecting the Shooting Star with Iowa’s Wapsi-Great Western Trail near Taopi. The Shooting Star will be extended four miles to the Iowa border. At least last year, Iowa leaders were eager to extend their trail one mile to the Minnesota border, but Mower officials want to reach Austin first.

 West to Hayward and Albert Lea

State leaders are discussing $500,000 to extend the Blazing Star Trail from Myre-Big Island State Park to Hayward. The trail presently begins at Frank Hall Park in Albert Lea and goes to the northeast side of Myre-Big Island State Park.

“Getting to Hayward would be a big step,” Kime said.

That trail will eventually connect to Austin, but the route could take several years.

 East to the Root River Trails

Someday, the Shooting Star Trail could extend from LeRoy east to Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park and the Root River Trails. Like several other trails, there’s little movement and work on that portion, according to Wagar.

 More miles in Austin

Along with the trails one day entering Austin, Kime is excited about work on trails inside Austin. The city has a five-year plan that includes work on trail segments near the bandshell, the Austin Wastewater Treatment Facility and along Turtle Creek, according to Kime.

“The city has been very aggressive,” he said.

Austin has more than 14 miles of graded city trails, and Kime praised the city as committed and supportive.

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