Brainerd: A trail runs through it (for now)
Snow has yet to fall and stick in the Brainerd lakes area, ushering in the start of the snowmobiling season.
But snowmobilers itching to dust off their sleds might be interested to learn that they may lose a significant statewide trail connection as early as next year after the College Drive reconstruction project is completed.
Brainerd City Council Chair Mary Koep, along with council members Bob Olson and Bonnie Cumberland, and a few city staff met Monday afternoon with members of the Brainerd Snodeos snowmobile club to discuss the matter, which arose out of a Brainerd City Council meeting last week.
Mark Kavanaugh, secretary/treasurer of the Brainerd Snodeos, president of the Crow Wing County Snowmobile Trails Association and treasurer of Minnesota United Snowmobilers, said the Brainerd Snodeos has been working for the past two years to find a solution to retain a Mississippi River snowmobile trail crossing at College Drive. A snowmobile trail is not part of the College Drive project.
This location has been part of a grant-in-aid groomed snowmobile trail since the mid-1980s and remains a key central Minnesota snowmobile connection, said Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh said the Snodeos provided a letter of support to the city of Brainerd in February 2010 when the city applied and received a $150,000 grant that included motorized traffic along the Spur Line Trail.
But Kavanaugh said the snowmobile club recently rescinded its letter of support after the same letter was used by the city to apply for a separate $500,000 Legacy grant application to extend the Spur Line Trail through south Brainerd to connect to Kiwanis Park that does not include motorized use, a $570,000 project.
Kavanaugh told council members that he had been working with city planner Mark Ostgarden on asking for the council’s support for the Snodeos to apply for the same $500,000 Legacy grant for a Laurel Street bridge extension for a snowmobile trail. He said the snowmobile club had received a $50,000 grant to cover the 10 percent local match needed for the project.
The only other cost to the city would be administrative costs for the project.
Kavanaugh said the last he heard from the city was on Oct. 3. But since he didn’t have a resolution of support from the council by the Oct. 31 deadline, the project was dead in the water. Kavanaugh said it was a one-shot opportunity to receive a 90/10 matching Legacy grant. If the group applies for another Legacy grant in February, it would be for a 75/25 percent match.
“Why wasn’t there an effort to come to the city council,” Olson asked Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh said he was working through Ostgarden, who was not in attendance at Monday’s meeting at city hall. Koep asked Kavanaugh if he had made Ostgarden aware of the deadline and Kavanaugh said he was aware.
In the meantime, the city had applied for the same Legacy project for the Spur Line Trail by the Oct. 31 deadline.
“He was going for the Legacy bucket and so were we,” George Burton, Snodeos trail coordinator, said of Ostgarden. “The ball has been dropped or buried in the backyard where nobody could find it.”
“Had I known that, I would not have sought those funds,” Kavanaugh said, adding that the state likely would not have awarded two Legacy grants to the same city for a similar project.
Kavanaugh said he does take responsibility for not going to another city official or directly to the council for a resolution of support.
“I was naive on my part,” said Kavanaugh.
The group discussed other options, including amending the submitted Legacy grant application to include a snowmobile bridge extension and other grant possibilities. Wade Miller, DNR area trails supervisor, said sometimes it is possible to get a deadline waived but he would need the grant application and a resolution of support from the city council in hand in order to attempt to get the deadline waived.
Miller said it’s not likely that both projects would get funded anyhow. Kavanaugh said if they tried to amend the first application already submitted, it’s likely that would get thrown out.
Kavanaugh said the snowmobile club would like a Mississippi River trail extension across the First Island of the Mississippi River, not far from the water treatment plant in Brainerd. This could also be used as a walking/biking path during the summer months.
City engineer Jeff Hulsether said any trail extension project should be kept separate from the College Drive project, since it is a federal aid project and would complicate matters.
City administrator Dan Vogt said he believed the best option would be for the club to go to Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, and Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, and lobby for the project to be included in the bonding bill, especially since this crossing has statewide significance for snowmobilers. Miller agreed that the bonding bill might be the best option at this point.
Olson said he would not support spending additional funds on a College Drive project, even
for a snowmobile trail connection. Cumberland said this was a separate but parallel project.
Kavanaugh said he would have a discussion about this with the Snodeos board of directors at its monthly meeting next Monday. He would then communicate to the city council what type of resolution the snowmobile club would like the city to support so it can attempt to secure funding for a trail connection.
“We’re here today to solve problems,” said Koep, of those at the meeting. “I think the council as a majority doesn’t want to see the connection lost.”
JODIE TWEED may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.