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Strong attendance at trail meeting

There was a strong turnout at Monday night’s public meeting in Perham regarding construction of a new recreational trail.

The roughly 35 attendees seemed to be mostly in support of the proposed trail, which would connect Perham and Pelican Rapids on a route that would travel through Maplewood State Park.

The dozen or so questions asked at the meeting primarily centered on construction and maintenance costs, as well as possible route options, which are still mostly up in the air.

The entire project is still in the beginning planning stages; engineers and Otter Tail County officials held the public meeting (and another in Pelican Rapids the night before) to gauge interest and gather input, especially on potential routes for the trail.

“We’re really excited about this,” said County Commissioner Doug Huebsch, who represents the Perham area and is a key supporter of the trail. “It’s a big, big project for us.”

In a presentation given at the meeting, project engineer

 Mike McGarvey, of SRF Consulting Group, said there are two main factors driving a state and nationwide interest in recreational trails: the health benefits, and the economic benefits.

In Otter Tail County, he said, a recreational trail would present “a great opportunity” for residents and tourists alike to be more active and enjoy the area’s lakes, rivers, hills and overall natural beauty all year long.

If the project finds the funding it needs to get off the ground, the trail will be open to walkers, bicyclists, in-line skaters, etc., and in the winter it will be used for snowmobiling.

“I think the trail would be great for economic development,” said one local resort owner. “It would be awesome.”

McGarvey said the trail itself would be a 10-foot wide paved path, with a minimum of two feet of open space on each side of it, usually more.

The trail would be independent of any roadway, and would have its own signage, markings, bridges and even rest areas and trailheads. Along stretches where it would run parallel to a busier highway, it would stay about 25 feet away from the road.

All possible routes for the trail are still being considered, McGarvey said, with preference being given to those that stay away from higher traffic highways. Ideally, the route will run alongside a mix of county and state highways, as well as city and township roads, so users can see a variety of landscapes and different communities can benefit from the trail.

It will be a relatively flat trail with a 5 percent grade or less, in general, and will have a view of lakes where possible.

Building the trail, engineers and county officials said, would be a lengthy process, with the timeline depending mostly on funding.

McGarvey said the earliest that state funding would be available for the project would be in 2015 or 2017, and even if this project wins that state funding, it would only cover part of the cost.

Because of this, the trail would likely be constructed in phases, “over a number of years,” he said. “This is a long-term effort.”

Other challenges planners face include getting permission from property owners to use part of their land for the trail, and finding routes that will have a minimal impact on wetlands and wildlife.

In Perham, specifically, there’s an added challenge of finding a safe route across Highway 10. It may be, county leaders said, that a temporary trailhead would have to be set up west of the highway, at least until a new bridge can be built across it.

Funding for construction of the trail would primarily come from state sources, with routine maintenance then becoming the responsibility of the county.

There is a cost to taxpayers, said Huebsch, but local taxpayers are already funding trails in Minnesota; if a trail were built in this area, some of those tax dollars would be staying local instead of going to other parts of the state.

McGarvey said public input from the meetings in Perham and Pelican Rapids will be used by engineers as they continue to explore route options and put together a master plan for the trail.

Public meetings will be held again in February, with a more solidified plan presented at that time.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Perham Focus more than five years ago, and has since worn many hats as writer, editor and page designer. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their one-year-old son, Simon, and their yellow lab, Louisa. 

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