'Otter Trail'

An appropriately named "Maple to Willow Path" starting at Maple Street and ending after its 1.7 mile route at Willow Road, is being proposed for the city of Ottertail.

An appropriately named "Maple to Willow Path" starting at Maple Street and ending after its 1.7 mile route at Willow Road, is being proposed for the city of Ottertail.

A request for funding for the walking/bike path was officially submitted last week, after the project gained support from the Ottertail City Council last month. If funding is approved for the Ottertail trail, construction would begin in 2012.

Pam Williams and Phil Sundberg are the co-coordinators behind the project. "Pam has been talking about a path like this for several years," explained Sundberg, who volunteered to assist Williams in preparing the detailed project application.

The application was turned in to the Minnesota Department of Transportation on December 7, with Otter Tail County serving as the project's sponsor. Although the county approved the project, the majority of the funds for the construction of the path would come from allocated federal monies.

"We're working on obtaining federal funding through the Transportation Enhancement Program," explained Williams, adding how the preliminary estimate of the cost of construction came in at $237,000.


Federal money expected to fund 80 percent

If the project is approved, the federal enhancement funds given would cover 80 percent of the construction fees. The rest of the money would need to be raised by the community, along with an additional estimated $59,000 in engineering fees.

The path has been designed to begin at the intersection of Maple Street and Highway 108, by Ottertail Home Center, and continue down the north side of Highway 108. At the junction of Highway 108 and Highway 78, the path would take a 90 degree turn and continue down Highway 78 until its intersection with Willow Road.

The Willow Road ending spot was chosen because it is situated directly across the road from where Highway 1 intersects with Highway 78. This proximity would give people using the path the option to continue their journey down the wide shoulder that presently exists on Highway 1.

Path would connect "old" to "new" Ottertail

With the path beginning in the "old section" of Ottertail and ending in the "new section" by Otter Tail Lake, it would serve as a connector between the otherwise divided city. "Anybody we've talked to says it should have been done a long time ago," commented Sundberg, who is enthusiastic about connecting the two areas of the city.

"It connects the golf course, banks, gift shops, and restaurants," added Williams.

Sundberg and Williams formally presented their idea to the Ottertail City Council at their November 1 meeting. After discussing their application, the council passed a motion to draw up a resolution stating that they were in agreement with the committee's efforts to create a walking/bike path in the city. This resolution was required as a part of the grant application process.


The path itself would be paved, and located on the right-of-way of the highway. Sundberg explained to the city council how the requirement is for a 10-foot bituminous path. The path would be limited strictly to non-motorized use, primarily for walkers, runners, bicyclists, and rollerbladers. In addition to providing a safe environment for its users, the creation of the path would also promote a healthy, active lifestyle for area residents.

Snowmobiles not allowed

Snowmobiles would be prohibited on the path, which shouldn't raise too many concerns. Although a snowmobile trail is currently located on part of the land proposed for the Ottertail path, Williams said that the Ottertail snowmobile club has offered to move their trail from the north side of Highway 108 to the south side.

If federal funds are granted for the Ottertail trail, there is still a 4-year waiting period before construction can begin. The applications are reviewed in January of 2008, and Williams and Sundberg estimate that they'll find out if they receive the money sometime between September and December of 2008.

"We're pretty optimistic about it ourselves," said Sundberg in regard to receiving the federal funding. However, if the money is not granted, the pair said they would be willing to turn in another application and try again next year.

If the project is approved, the money will be granted in 2012, when construction can begin. With the federal funds covering 80 percent of construction costs, there is still a lot of money that the city will need to raise.

Engineer Chris McConn attended the council's Nov. 19 meeting to share some estimated costs of the project. "I'd rather you budget for your project so you don't have a financial hardship in five years," McConn said to the council. He stressed how he was not present to sell the council a project, but rather to help the council make a safe decision.

"It's tough to figure out how much a project is going to cost five years from now," explained Ottertail city coordinator Lee Sherman. However, the city does have some money already set aside for this project. The Lions Club, for example, has committed to donating $1,000 per year for the project, with some funds already received.


Plan accepted, figure out funding later

Councilman Jeff Spanswick, who initially shared some reservations about the city's ability to come up with "an extra $100,000", ultimately decided in favor of the project.

"I think we should go ahead with this idea," he concluded. "We'll figure out how to pay for it later."

One positive result of the mandated 4-year waiting period is that it would allow a generous span of time to raise the funds necessary for the project.

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