A path to Austin

Published 8:23 am Thursday, March 8, 2012

Prairie Visions leaders are hopeful this will be the year they finally secure state funding for the Shooting Star Trail to reach Austin. But with a host of other projects requesting bonding dollars, it’s not a sure thing. -- Herald file photo

Shooting Star enthusiasts hope this is the year they secure funds to complete the trail

The end may be in sight for local bike enthusiasts, but they’re still stuck playing the waiting game.

The Shooting Star Bike Trail is paved to Rose Creek, and Prairie Visions is close to finally reaching a key goal: connecting the trail to Austin.

Becky Hartwig, Prairie Visions chair, said they’re at the same point they were a year ago: waiting for funds from the state.

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“We’re still waiting until we find out if there’s any bonding money,” said Hartwig, who also owns the Rose Pedaler in Rose Creek.

“Right now we’re just at a standstill,” she added. “We hope it comes through.”

The Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota proposed $2.3 million in bonding from the state’s 2012 capital investment fund for the acquisition of 5.6 miles for the Shooting Star Trail.

“We’d like to do it as soon as we can,” said Gerald Meier, a Prairie Visions member, of reaching Austin. But bonding funds have been tight for trails in recent years.

There’s still a lot of work to be done, and much of it is in the hands of Mower County Public Works Director Mike Hanson.

“We’re waiting for Mike Hanson to get a route,” Meier said.

Hanson said work on his end is in the preliminary planning stages and talks haven’t started with landowners yet.

“We are getting to that point but we have not had any discussions yet,” he said.

While some paths to Austin have been tossed around, Hanson said no firm plans are on the table.

“We have not established any routes — nothing’s in stone,” he said.

Even if funding is approved, Meier said paving or graveling isn’t expected to get underway this year. While officials are hopeful, Hartwig said many projects requested bond funds.

Meier admitted trails are not cheap. In fact, he estimated the cost for the trail per mile is three times what it was when Prairie Visions started in 1992.

Meier said he hopes work could begin next year if funding is secured this session, that way there’s time to put the project up for bid.

Once funding is secured to reach Austin, the trail will eventually hook up with the Blazing Star Trail. That trail recently received DNR funds to extend.

In addition, officials out of McIntire, Iowa, are already interested in connecting the Wapsi-Great Western Trail with the Shooting Star Trail, which would require an extension of a few miles south of LeRoy to the Iowa line.

Meier said extending the trail to Austin would increase the number of people from Austin using the trail, and it would increase the length of the trail from about 20 miles to 30.

“It would definitely be used more,” he said.

Meier noted residents are already using the trail all year. People in towns along the trails help keep the trail clear in the winter, and there’s even about a five-mile stretch for cross country skiing — when there’s actually snow on the ground.

“The local people are using it tremendously,” Meier said. “I would guess there’s more walkers than bikers.”

Call Hartwig at the Rose Pedaler at 507-434-0500 to volunteer.