Excitement is building among some Morrison County residents as a recreational trail that supporters hope will bring more vibrancy to the area comes closer to fruition.
Since 2007 members of the Camp Ripley/Veterans State Trail committee have been pushing for a 30-mile corridor that would support both bicycle and all-terrain vehicle trails, connecting the Soo Line Trail and the Paul Bunyan Trail. It would create one of the longest connected trail systems in the country.
After receiving $1.7 million from a state bonding bill in 2014, and working with the the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the committee hopes to be able to put shovels to dirt to begin the first leg as soon as next year. The leg that would be constructed is the first of six that was authorized by the state.
“We’ve been working on this for seven years,” Camp Ripley/Veterans State Trail committee president Bob Reinitz said. “It’s time.”
The future trail is expected to go from the beginning of the Soo Line Trail just north of Royalton, through the city of Little Falls, past Camp Ripley and finally connecting with the Paul Bunyan Trail in Crow Wing State Park. Reinitz and Tim Edgeton, the area supervisor for DNR Division of Parks and Trails, said the $1.7 million that was bonded will go to build the first leg from the Soo Line Trail to Little Falls. Since the trail would be managed by the state, the project is operated by the DNR.
Trail committee member and editor of Minnesota Trail Magazine Jan Lasar said the connecting trail would be a game changer for recreational trail users.
“For the cyclists it’s a huge deal because it’s a connection from the trails in our neighborhoods up to the northern trails like the Paul Bunyan and the Heartland trail,” he said. “It’s a big deal and people are getting very enthusiastic about it because they know what it can mean.”
Bringing vibrancy to the area
While committee members and area residents are pleased to be able to offer recreational opportunities for cyclists and ATV users, the economic benefit of the connector is top of mind.
“This area of Central Minnesota has some of the lowest family incomes in the state. We also rank towards the bottom of health issues, and we see this trail as a game changer that will bring a lot of new business into the area,” Reinitz said.
Kristina Vonberg, executive director of the Little Falls Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, said businesses could be more attracted to Little Falls if trail users begin to come into town and patronize existing shops and restaurants.
According to a University of Minnesota study from 2009, trail users spent $2.4 million when using trails statewide. Vonberg said an estimated $38 is spent a day per trail user.
“After the economic boost is there that opens way to shopping, maybe the movie theater is open longer, maybe there is afternoon exhibits and performances at the art center,” she said. “What can we do to cater to those bicycle tourists, ATV and snowmobilers to get them to come here, stay here, want to come back and spend their out-of-town dollars here?”
Reinitz is hopeful that dirt will be moved by spring, but there is still some ways to go before the first leg can be started.
First, the Department of Natural Resources will need to identify a corridor the two trails — one for ATVs, one for bicycles — will go through, according to Edgeton.
“We have to identify property ownership, identify wetlands and other obstructions,” Edgeton said.
Edgeton and Reinitz said the DNR is trying to place the trails on state-owned property and county road and state highway right of ways to avoid having to purchase private property.
Edgeton said unlike many of the state trails, the Camp Ripley/Veterans State Trail is not located on an abandoned railroad bed, which presents challenges in finding available property. While it may present challenges, some say it will add to the unique
ness of the trail.
“The benefit of the Camp Ripley Trail is that it will allow the DNR to design a trail that is more of an experience … . We can access some really great land and make it more (scenic),” he said.
Edgeton said the DNR is also seeking to have two separate engineering groups design the two trails.
“It doubles our resources so one can focus on a trail that would be more nonmotorized that may have specific design requirements, versus one that will be more motorized,” he said.
As the DNR focuses on the design and the engineering of the trail, the Camp Ripley/Veterans State Trail committee plans to continue to seek funding to develop more of the trail. The project may have received $1.7 million for the project, but Reinetz does not believe that is enough.
“The reason we are pushing hard is that we believe this will be a bonding year,” he said.
Reinetz and the committee plan to go before the Legislature this term to apply for money through a bonding bill. Reinetz did not state how much the committee plans to ask for.
Currently the committee is encouraging area residents to participate in a letter campaign to show legislators the support for the trail. Those wishing to participate can access the letter at crvtrail.org.
While there are still some hurdles to jump, Reinetz expects to see a start on the trail sooner rather than later.
“We believe next spring we will be turning some dirt,” he said. “The DNR and I always argue whether it will be spring or summer, but I say spring to keep putting pressure on them.”