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Happy trails to us? Perham area hopes for connection with state trail system

A statewide coalition is currently making long-term investment plans for Minnesota’s parks and trails, and there’s a chance the Perham area could directly benefit.

Plans are underway to try and create a new recreational trail connecting Perham to Pelican Rapids, on a route that would wind through Maplewood State Park.

The hope is that this trail would eventually meet up with the Heartland State Trail, which runs east and north from Park Rapids, and the Central Lakes Trail, which runs from Fergus Falls to Alexandria. These trails then connect with other similar trails throughout the state.

The whole idea is still nascent, and would take time and funding, along with public support and input, to fully develop.

The first step in the planning process was just taken a couple of week ago, when a group of leaders from Perham, Pelican Rapids and other area communities, along with Otter Tail County and state transportation officials, met to talk about the possibility of the new trail.

Perham Economic Development Director Chuck Johnson, who played a key role in getting that group together, said he was encouraged by the meeting. He said the group has decided to move forward with a planning study for the trail, which would lay out the project cost, possible funding options and a feasible trail route.

Ultimately, Johnson said, the group is hoping to have a solid, workable plan in place for the trail in order to “bring something more tangible to the legislature later on” and increase their odds of securing funding.

Those odds may be somewhat slim, Johnson said, but there’s reason to be hopeful: a statewide coalition is currently reviewing routes and policies for Minnesota’s parks and trails, specifically looking at how funds from the 2008 Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment may be best used into the future.

The coalition is basically coming up with a “master plan for how the parks and trails Legacy funds are going to be spent for the next 23 years,” explained Johnson.

As they’re looking at how and where to invest this money, Otter Tail County should seem a sensible place. As Johnson said, “Otter Tail County has more lakes than any other county in the nation, yet has no trails, even as trails become increasingly more popular.”

The local group planning the trail believes a connection to the scenic Maplewood State Park would likely be a big draw for bicyclists and other trail users, and could also help attract state funding for the project. If it comes to fruition, the trail would support and promote tourism and healthy living throughout the area.

A proposal for inclusion of the trail into the next bonding bill has already been submitted to the state, in time for a June 21 request deadline. That proposal includes basic and preliminary information about the project, with more details to be submitted at a later date.

Public forums in affected communities will likely be a part of the continuing planning process.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Detroit Lakes Tribune in November 2017 after several years of writing and editing at the Perham Focus. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their young son and daughter, and their yellow Lab.

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