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Legislature: $2.5 million bill being considered for state multi-use trail

Fans of a planned multi-use trail that would connect multiple trails in central Minnesota are hoping funds are approved at the state Legislature to start digging ground this year.

Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, and Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, are carrying companion bills at the Legislature asking for $2.5 million in bonding money for the Camp Ripley/Veterans State Trail. The money will be used to build the first phase of the trail from Little Falls to the southern portion of the Soo Line Trail north of Royalton.

The Camp Ripley/Veterans State Trail officially received state trail authorization in 2009. This trail addition would link the Central Lakes, Lake Wobegon, Soo Line, Paul Bunyan, Heartland and Mi-Gi-Zi Trails to be one continuous recreational route. As a first in Minnesota recreational trail construction, it will also be a true multi-use trail for motorized as well as non-motorized users.

The project team developed several potential trail alignment options for consideration. All alignment options, for both motorized and non-motorized use, were available for public review and comment, according to the Minnesota DNR. Trail alignment options are only search corridors at this point. A specific route for the trail has not yet been determined, and no segments are yet in state ownership, outside of existing parks and preserves. The master plan must be completed and approved before any funds can be used for trail construction.

"If we can 'win' the bonding money, we want to start construction this year," trail committee chair Bob Reinitz said in an email. "We will be asked to appear in front of several legislative committees. Our purpose will be to educate them on how important the CRVST is to all of central Minnesota."

The committee sought to give legislators an idea of the local support for the project by asking for letters of support. Since starting that campaign about three months ago, they gathered about 5,000 letters of support.

Gazelka said the project is his No. 1 priority among bonding requests.

"I think it merits regional significance," Gazelka said.

Gazelka said he is passionate about the project because of the passion he has seen surrounding the idea. He recalls attending meetings filled to capacity with diverse groups of people behind the project. He's also behind the project because it is one that is open to so many groups.

"We have such broad regional community support," Gazelka said. "Where it has statewide significance is, it connects a couple other major trails to have the longest continuous tarred bike trail in the whole world, I believe. That makes it pretty impressive and important to the state."

Though it's not clear when the bill will be heard at the Legislature, Reinitz said the committee and interested parties are invited to try to load up buses to go to the Capital and deliver the letters of support.

"We're gonna carry this huge stack of letters in and explain to them what it is, so they understand how big a deal this really is to the Little Falls area," said Reinitz, who lives and works in Little Falls.

"Little Falls is in one of the most economically depressed counties in the state, so is Crow Wing and Cass for that matter," Reinitz said. "What also goes with that, in terms of physical fitness, we rank towards the very lowest in the whole state. Those two things do go hand-in-hand.

"We need to make some changes in central Minnesota, and this trail isn't just about Little Falls, it is going to affect all of central MInnesota."

Reinitz explained how this trail is the missing link that will allow hikers, bikers, ATV drivers and more to travel far greater distances for their pleasure or health. And, in theory, the more people navigating through, the more money should be spent as well.

If this is a bonding year, and the money is approved, Reinitz is hopeful they can break ground this year on the first leg of the trail.

The group has about $1.4 million from the original bonding and it will take the additional $2.5 million to complete the leg from Little Falls to Royalton.