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Open house planned for $10.9 million trail extension at Spring Lake Park

Late this fall, work will get started on the newest section of the Mississippi River Regional Trail in Dakota County.

The Mississippi River Regional Trail (MRRT) is a planned 27-mile pedestrian and bicycle trail that, when completed, will stretch from South St. Paul to Hastings along the river. About 21 miles has already been built, including the leg connecting the Hastings city trail system to Schaar’s Bluff in Spring Lake Park.

There are only two sections of the trail left to be built; one through Rosemount and the other through Spring Lake Park Reserve. Construction on the Spring Lake Park piece will begin this year and is expected to be completed in the fall of 2016, said project manager Chris Hartzell.

The Spring Lake Park project itself will add roughly four miles to the overall trail, located between Fahey Avenue in Rosemount and 127th Street in Nininger Township. It will add three overlooks on the trail, two pedestrian bridges with overlook decks, bluff-side vistas and smaller features like interpretive signs, bike repair stations, wayfinding signs to help people navigate the entire MRRT, limestone blocks to sit on and more.

“There’s a lot of things,” Hartzell said.

The elements within the project and the trail alignment are largely a result of Dakota County’s Greenway Guidebook, which is a master plan for the county’s greenways – corridors designed to benefit water quality, habitat, recreation and transportation. There were also plans in the Spring Lake Park master plan that affected the design of the new trail, Hartzell explained.

The trail itself is planned so that it avoids private property where possible and avoids archaeologically significant sites and sites that have rare ecology, he said. Although there are a number of sensitive or rare ecologies in the area, the trail doesn’t impact any of them, he said.

The Dakota County Board, which approved the final project, is invested in making sure the trail meets the natural character of the area, meets environmental needs and restores damaged areas to pristine condition, Hartzell said.

Although work is set to begin this fall and there might be some work done over this winter, Hartzell said the bulk of the construction is scheduled over 2015 and 2016.

The total cost of the Spring Lake Park Reserve portion is estimated at about $10.9 million, which includes the trail, bridges, rock cuts, overlooks, restoration activities and park amenities. So far, the county has secured about $3 million from Federal grants, and a significant portion of the funding will be coming from the Metropolitan Council, Hartzell said. There are also funds from other sources available, so only a small portion of the total project cost is expected to be paid for by county property taxes.

“A project like this attracts outside funding sources,” he said.

The county decided to bid the project late in the fall to try for better prices in the bidding process. There’s a lot of work being done, Hartzell said, and the bidding climate is very uncertain. Getting bids on a project late in the fall usually results in lower construction costs, he said.

Open house

On Wednesday, July 23, Dakota County staff will hold a public open house to showcase the project and its features to the public.

“It’s a chance for people to see what the county’s doing on their trail system,” Hartzell said.

Besides getting to see the plans, those who attend the open house will get contact information to help them keep up to date on construction activities.

For more information, go to River/Pages/trail-construction.aspx.

Beyond Dakota County

The MRRT is a big part of Dakota County’s greenway plan.

From county staff to county commissioners, “everyone considers this one of the crown jewels of our system,” Hartzell said.

But its impact reaches far beyond Dakota County and the Twin Cities. Ultimately, the MRRT will be part of a massive trail system that follows the Mississippi River from its headwaters at Lake Itasca to the tailwaters in New Orleans, La. Regional plans call for building the trail from South St. Paul into St. Paul and from Hastings to Red Wing in 2018.