Plans in works to make recreational destination out of Cedar River

Published 9:27 am Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Cedar River is inching closer to getting a state water trail designation, which would make it a better recreational resource.

Putting a state water trail designation on a portion of the Cedar River could mean more public access sites, trails and land restoration projects in the future.

Tim Ruzek and Justin Hanson of the Cedar River Watershed District spoke to the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday, and, apparently, the committee was receptive.

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“The presentation was received very well by the committee and we’re hoping we can have this bill passed into law this year,” said Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, who drafted the bill for the river to become a water trail.

He said the presentation was persuasive because of the Cedar River’s need for help. Sparks, Ruzek and Hanson were all able to answer the committees questions on the issue.

The water trail would be taken care of by the Department of Natural Resources and local agencies like the CRWD.

“It’s kind of a big deal to be named with that description,” Sparks said.

According to DNR, there’s currently 32 sites in Minnesota that have the water trail designation.

“Our proposed water trail route would go from the village of Lansing flowing south through the city of Austin and down to the Iowa border,” Ruzek said in the presentation to the committee. “This route offers the most accessible ways to get in and out of the river.”

The CRWD already has a 30-acre project planned south of Austin that would work well for public access. According to Hanson, the project fits perfectly into the state watertrail program. It would retire farmland for wildlife refuge, install a boat landing and build a parking lot. Even without the water trail, the CRWD plans to break ground this summer on its own accord.

Ruzek thinks the 30-acre spot fits perfectly with the water trail.

“The DNR received a fourth flood-acquisition property on Austin’s southern edge from the county that is targeted to eventually become a canoe access site.” Ruzek said in his presentation. “A state water trail designation would fit very well with these access sites and encourage the type of recreational use they were meant to attract.”

Although there’s currently about $10,000 remaining from DNR funding for projects around the Cedar River, the water trail designation could mean more money in the future.

Sparks said just being on the water trail makes the Cedar River more likely to receive money.

Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, also has a bill proposal in the House. However, that bill has yet to be heard.

Plans to spruce up the Cedar River comes on the heels of a recent visit from leaders of Dubuque, Iowa, who addressed the importance of communities getting the most out of their natural resources.