Trail biking to the popular Minnesota Landscape Arboretum would finally become possible -- from two directions -- starting in September 2012, according to plans seeking more than $1 million in federal and state grants.

Proposed new trails, in Victoria and Chanhassen, would take bikers and hikers safely under busy Hwy. 5 and Hwy. 41 to the arboretum, connecting the scenic campus to the metro trail network for the first time and making it a regional biking destination.

"We are excited about that because right now there is not a safe way for people ... to come to the arboretum without driving a car," said Peter Moe, arboretum operations manager. "We think we will be getting hundreds and hundreds of bikes every day."

Traffic whizzing by the arboretum's entrance on two-lane Hwy. 5 is a barrier and safety threat to walking or biking out to see its showcased flowers, plants and trees.

Having more visitors hike or bike to the arboretum would ease the parking crunch and keep the air cleaner, Moe said. But don't expect to stay all day without paying admission fees, he said.

Victoria and Chanhassen -- flanking the arboretum on the west and east -- have made a case for state and federal grants for the trails by pointing out that their residents are cut off from the arboretum even though they live right next door.

"We have a number of residents that use the arboretum and a number who volunteer as well, and we often get asked, 'How can we safely get to the arboretum?'" said Holly Kreft, Victoria development director.

Biking the shoulder on Hwy. 5 poses such a hazard that people routinely load their bikes onto their cars and drive the mile or two to the arboretum, Kreft said. "Especially with children, Highway 5 is just not an option."

If the two suburbs are successful in landing grants, their new trails would connect the larger biking community to the arboretum via two long, widely used trails: the Lake Minnetonka Regional LRT Trail through Hopkins, Minnetonka, Excelsior and Victoria, and the Minnesota River Bluffs LRT Regional Trail through Hopkins, Eden Prairie and Chanhassen.

Bikers would be able to make a day of going to the arboretum, said Todd Hoffman, Chanhassen parks and recreation director. "They can come from anywhere in the south metro and get to the arboretum and tour the gardens and have lunch."

Victoria officials hope to hear this month whether the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will split the cost of a $212,000 trail tunnel under Hwy. 5 at Minnewashta Parkway and a .7-mile extension of the Lake Minnetonka LRT Regional Trail to Minnewashta Parkway.

If the state grant is awarded, construction would start in June 2012 and the underpass would be open by September, Kreft said. The trail would connect to the arboretum via a service road one mile west of the main entrance.

In Chanhassen, the $1.2 million project would begin in spring 2015 and open that fall if federal funding is approved. Chanhassen officials anticipate a grant decision next year. The request is for $986,000 from the federal government with a local match of $246,500.

The 1.25-mile Chanhassen trail would run along the south side of Hwy. 5, extending east from the arboretum's main entrance to Century Boulevard. It would tunnel under Hwy. 41, connecting to miles of Chanhassen city trails that link to the Minnesota River Bluffs LRT Regional Trail, Hoffman said.

"We think that the overall connection between the community and the arboretum is going to be strengthened significantly if this project is approved," he said.

For the Chanhassen trail, the arboretum has agreed to donate the needed land. Nearby Life Time Fitness, which has a club and corporate headquarters at Hwys. 5 and 41, has agreed to donate easements for the trail to cross its property.

Hoffman expects people to commute on the trail to work at Life Time Fitness or the arboretum. Life Time Fitness members would use the trails for walking, running and biking.

Currently, people who walk or bike to the arboretum get in free. That is likely to be revised if the new trails are built and hundreds arrive by bike, Moe said.

Those who are just passing through on the trail likely will be able to go through free of charge, but "we probably will need to charge at least for people who plan to spend a good part of the day" at the arboretum, he said.

Laurie Blake • 612-673-1711