County aims to have route, land to bring Shooting Star Trail to Austin by fall

Published 5:22 pm Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mower County commissioners have plans to extend the Shooting Star Trail, but it’s going to take some time.

County officials said Tuesday they are working to set a route and purchase land to finish the final seven miles of the trail from Rose Creek to Austin by this fall, that way the county will have a clear vision in coming years when seeking funding from the state.

“That’ll make it easier to lobby for state funding,” County Coordinator Craig Oscarson said.

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During its Tuesday morning meeting, the board voted 4-0 (with Commissioner Tim Gabrielson absent) to commit to eventually connecting the Shooting Star Trail with Iowa’s Wapsi-Great Western Trail, but commissioners said the county’s first priority is Austin.

While commissioners were happy to partner with Mitchell County, Commissioner Polly Glynn said it was important that Mower County makes it clear that connecting to Iowa will not be immediate and that expansion to Austin remains first priority.

“By committing to the Iowa group, it doesn’t interfere with that in any way,” Glynn said.

Suzanne McCarthy, secretary of Vision 2020’s bike trails committee, asked the board for updates on the Shooting Star’s progress to Austin.

“I just hope that we can really get moving on it,” she said.

McCarthy urged the board to be swift in reaching Austin, adding that she thought a route was supposed to be mapped out already and wondered if plans were being held up.

“The trails are wonderful, and I think it would bring a lot of visitors to town,” she said.

County officials told McCarthy they are working on multiple routes to Austin, but face several barriers.

“There’s not always willing land owners,” Oscarson told McCarthy.

Prairie Visions member Charlie Anderson urged the county board to contact landowners quickly, and he suggested they ask landowners where they want the trail to run. From his past work with the trail, Anderson said, he believes landowners may not be willing to have the trail in a particular spot on their land, but may have another suggestion.

“They do like to have input,” he said.

But in order for that to happen, Anderson said, the dialogue needs to start soon.

Rather than hiring a consultant, the county board has had Public Works Director Mike Hanson coordinate work on the trails since the 1990s. Hanson said he has to balance work in the trail with his duties to road and bridge repairs, and he admitted the trail would be further along had the board hired a consultant. But, that would have come with additional consulting fees.

The county has purchased land for the trail in the past with the hope of the Department of Natural Resources buying the land later, but that’s not guaranteed. Oscarson said there are still sections of land the has not reimbursed them for.

Along with landowners, Hanson said, there are other challenges. For one, a bridge would need to be rebuilt on one possible route. Another challenge is crossing Interstate 90, as Hanson said plans would need to be approved by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

“Getting to Austin is not as simple as just coming up to I-90 and crossing,” Hanson said.

Once the county secures the land, Hanson and Oscarson said, the county can meet with local representatives and start lobbying for state funds.