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Funding OK’d for trails study

 BACKUS — The Cass County Board voted Tuesday to fund at least a study of a recreational trail route between Pillager and Baxter and, if full funding is available from others, also a trail route to connect the Paul Bunyan and Soo Line trails through Fort Ripley.

 A joint committee selected Bolton Menk from among five bidders to do the planning, County Engineer David Enblom said. Cass will pay $4,292 for the Pillager-Baxter route planning and contribute $5,000 toward the Fort Ripley route plan.

Crow Wing and Morrison counties will be asked to contribute $5,000 each. The Ripley Veterans Trail group will pay the $27,064 balance for the Ripley trail route study, Enblom said, adding he believes they already have raised about $23,000 of that.

The commissioners praised the planning process whereby any roadblocks to routes will be identified through the plan before funds are raised to build the trail.

They contrasted this approach with the Walker area trail approach they discussed earlier in the meeting. The Walker trail is expected to connect the Paul Bunyan with the city of Walker in five construction funding stages. Two stages are complete.

The third, planned for this summer, connects Shingobee Island to a point about halfway north toward Walker.

For this trail, the effort has been to raise construction money before all easements have been obtained and the exact route identified, board members indicated.

 The Phase 3 route now calls for crossing a portion of the Ah-Gwah-Ching property the county purchased from the state that the county has designated for future county buildings and a potential health care facility. Tuesday, the board gave Shingobee Township a permit to cross county land.

 While the commissioners questioned whether this route could potentially conflict with the health care use, Administrator Robert Yochum said neither Essentia Health (once a lead provider for the project)  nor Sanford Health (now expressing an interest in the project) have been willing to commit to the project at this time or offer to purchase.

He said the permit to cross terms give a potential health care developer the option to purchase the trail area should that provider purchase the land from the county in the future. That purchaser could either provide an easement or require moving the trail at that time.

 Yochum said removal of pine trees from the property for the trail route will be noticeable to the motoring public on Highway 371.

 The board voted to close the 1.84-acre demolition debris landfill area at Ah-Gwah-Ching that was used to contain demolition debris from removal of buildings at that site and to identify it on the county’s deed for the land.