DNR eyes Blazing Star Trail expansion

Published 9:39 am Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Like the Shooting Star Trail, Albert Lea’s Blazing Star Trail may be expanding this summer.

An official with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said the agency looks like it is close to sealing deals for land purchases on the Blazing Star Trail.

Joel Wagar, the DNR agent for trails in the Rochester district, said the purchases should allow the DNR to move forward with some long-awaited construction this year on the trail between Albert Lea and Hayward.

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The comments came last week at a meeting with Freeborn County commissioners and officials from cities in Freeborn County. He said the trail negotiations involve three landowners and two utility companies.

Wagar said he expects construction contracts to be bid on this spring or summer.

He said land acquisition is always the hardest part of trail building. He noted that the Blazing Star Trail is 15 years old.

The Legislature first authorized its existence in 1996. Funding came in 1998, and it took five years until the land deals were done so the trail could be built into Myre-Big Island State Park. The city of Hayward built a restroom in 2003, in anticipation of the trail bringing tourists to town.

In 2005, the state Legislature authorized $1.47 million in the bonding bill, with the aim of getting the trail to Hayward. That funding had a five-year spending deadline, but during the 2010 legislative session, then-House District 27A Rep. Robin Brown sponsored a bill extending the deadline to June 2014. That bill passed into law.

An additional $1.6 million was requested in the 2010 bonding bill, but in March then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty line-item vetoed it out when he brought the bill from $1 billion to $680 million.

That same request, people at the county meeting speculated, could return this legislative session.

Presently, the Blazing Star Trail begins at Frank Hall Park and ends about seven miles later in Myre-Big Island State Park. The long-term goal is for the trail to connect Albert Lea and Austin.

The Blazing Star and Shooting Star trails are projected to eventually connect. The Shooting Star Trail will be expanding closer to Rose Creek this summer. However, the extent of the project depends on how much work can be done with the funding.